The Authoritarians, book by Bob Altemeyer

hombredelatierra, Jeudi, Juillet 14, 2011 - 14:10

Bob Altemeyer, professor of psychology, University of Manitoba

If you only read one book on authoritarism in your life, let this be the book!

Bob Altemeyer: The Authoritarians. Available as online text:

If you only read one text on the authoritarian personality type and authoritarianism, let this be the book! Prof Altemeyer presents an empirically based model of the authoritarian personality types, deliniating "followers" and "Social Dominators" (authoritarian leaders). This is a nice treatment of the subject which avoids the ideological pitfalls some earlier authors have fallen into. Example: Erich Fromm's "Escape from Freedom", while admirable in its intentions, stresses an (? ideologically conditonned?) symmetry, in which each sadist possesses an "inner masochist". Guess, he didn't meet the sadists I have..

In some ways, Bob Altemeyer's book raises the bar for the social or green activist by stressing how "closed minded" high authoritarian types can be. They can be quite irrational /aggressive in their defense of totally wrong headed, even internally contradictory, positions. Indeed, anyone who has tried to argue with Global Warming "sceptics" can attest to this common character trait!

However, Altemeyer's conclusions can be seen in a positive light, notwithstanding. Activists who have assimilated his work will now have no excuse for wasting time, effort and money trying to convince or convert "lost causes" - those too closed minded to listen to appeals to fact, reason or probability. In practice, this should mean refocusing our energies on those individuals who CAN be reached with logical consistency, facts and morality. This, is turn, should lead to a more efficient use of our limited human resources and time.

I was particularly impressed with the author's impassioned plea in the concluding chapter where he argues, as Wilhelm Reich earlier did, that authoritarianism is a psychic plague of our time. Altemeyer: If we, living today, refuse to rise up and reclaim democracy, the liberties and RESPONSIBILITIES it entails, we will lose them. These are turbulent times of disruption and transition. Such times breed totalitarian forces..

In conclusion, Altemeyer gives some suggestions for counteracting authoritarianism by reaching out to fundamentalist christian groups for common causes. For example, some Christians are becoming all too aware what our "dominion over nature" is costing us all. Their scriptures also teach a message of "good stewardship" of God's gift (the earth). Thus treehuggers and the people of God may find common cause hauling old autos and tires our of a local stream. Social scientists, Altemeyer notes, have discovered that such shared work and projects are an exceedingly powerful force for pomoting cohesion and mutual understanding between highly divergent groups.

Today, one of the (few) bright spots on the horizon is the rising tide of extreme weather events and the economic impacts of Peak Oil. These emerging forces are invalidating the very foundational bases of the Neoconservative worldview: limitless growth on a finite planet, the infinite intersubstitutibility of economic resources, "God's pact" with mankind giving us "dominion over the earth", etc. Activists must learn to exploit these events as "talking points" with worried fellow citizens whose minds are open to new ways of seeing the world and who are capable of challenging unjust or foolish authorities. Altemeyer has given us some valuable insights into identifying those who are capable of listening to reason and seeing reality and those who are not.

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