Though controversial at conception in the 1950s, Adorno’s theory of the authoritarian personality persists. He suggested the main elements consist of:
- Blind allegiance to conventional beliefs about right and wrong
- Respect for submission to acknowledged authority
- Belief in aggression toward those who do not subscribe to conventional thinking, or who are different
- A negative view of people in general - i.e. the belief that people would all lie, cheat or steal if given the opportunity
- A need for strong leadership which displays uncompromising power
- A belief in simple answers and polemics - i.e. The media controls us all or the source of all our problems is the loss of morals these days.
- Resistance to creative, dangerous ideas. A black and white worldview.
- A tendency to project one's own feelings of inadequacy, rage and fear onto a scapegoated group
- A preoccupation with violence and sex
Do these look familiar in 2020?
Under intense pressure, fear, and conditioning, vast swathes of people are revealing their authoritarian nature.
I have posited for over a decade that this personality has always been latent in the general populace. This has been revealed over the years by asking one question – ‘If you were the leader of your country for a day, what would you do?’ Consider the following evidence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sMn5YVHsigE https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxhIXNiYlzs
Let me first say, I believe in the goodness of people. The problem is good intentions truly do pave the path to hell. What would people do with this sense of what they believe to be the supreme power of a head of state? Free chicken for everyone, compulsory vegetarianism, an obligatory four-day work week, everything tax free. All done on the spot, without scrutiny, flippant with the shared resources of a nation.
Along with this are several infantile policies that are specific to the person, without thought for the consequences. For all those good intentions, what we actually see is personal self-interest disguised as virtue. One person said everyone should be forced to wear silly hats. “If you can’t say something seriously enough to overcome the silly hat, you shouldn’t be saying it.” This idea alone has the consequences of removing bodily autonomy, advocating speech suppression, and stratification of society through a shaming culture.
There seems to be a belief that it is a head of state that confers power. Several in the videos believe it is the state that should provide food, which as caring an aim that is, negates the power of the individual to create that same level of influence with their free personal power. Given the power of a head of state for one single day, under their paradigm, they wouldn’t give up or confer authority to a more representative or democratic system, instead they would become total authority instantly, by virtue of their own grandiosity.
Under the immense pressure and fear of covid, people are desperate for control, for easy solutions. Lockdowns, masks, egregious state power, are all seen as justified means to an end regardless of whether they work, because they look as though they should
work. Intense propaganda and a groupthink majority has been building momentum for years. The ego cannot tolerate loss of control. We are seeing now, as we have since antiquity, a descent into irrationality, and demands for a parental figure to fix it with simple solutions.
I believe the trauma we all face is like that of cPTSD and childhood trauma. Most of us have some form of childhood trauma, and most of us have not dealt with it sufficiently. As a result, many of us suffer from dissociation due to repression. As we are deep in global trauma, we cannot really work on healing as the worst of it is ongoing. Whilst we are in this state of near psychosis, many people dig further in, throwing in anything that seems as though it might work, as desperate compulsions we all must follow to be safe from existential threat.
As momentum builds, the ego of the authoritarian must grow as a shield against what would traditionally be called immorality. It is here that we learn something scary: Most people believe they are morally superior to most other people: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/most-people-consider-themselves-to-be-morally-superio
The only thing worse than an authoritarian, is an authoritarian that is unaware. These people are supremely dangerous, as their panic and belief in superiority gives them the perceived authority to know what is best for other people, and to do so with violence given enough stimulus over time. Since they believe themselves morally superior, and are backed up by perceived authority, they are capable of even genocide, with the belief they are doing good. Fear turns to anger, turns to hate, as shown by the many vitriolic online and real-world abuses one could describe as casual sadism.
Hitler was not an elitist. He was a regular loser. His stature demonstrates the danger of a disgruntled people ready to rally around an identifiable populist. What solution could be easier for the ‘greater good’ than total power and control? This applies to any ideology or political paradigm. Anything else is denial of human nature, as is to believe we have already witnessed the final genocide.
Most people don’t read books on history or politics of their own volition. Most millennials don’t know much about the Holocaust (https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/survey-finds-shocking-lack-holocaust-knowledge-among-millennials-gen-z-n1240031
). Forgetting the lessons of history dooms us to repeat them. 21st century humans make the same mistake as all humans throughout history, in misguided belief that the present moment represents the pinnacle of human experience, knowledge, and endeavour. This delusional belief gives the perceived authority of enlightenment above all who have ever lived.
As a result, people have loose thinking, short term assumptions without greater personal systems of attempting to understand political and philosophical realities, and little understanding of the consequences of major actions within or beyond their own lifetime. The presumed authority allows all possibilities and negates individual freedom in pursuit of a ‘greater good’ decided by a minority within majority demographics.
The intentions of the good yet misguided people who become everyday authoritarians is well summed up by the C.S. Lewis quote: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”
Personally, I’ve been called a callous killer for daring to dance at a bar, to sing, to advocate for speaking to people on public transport. As a disabled person, I’m told I should always have to wear identification of my exemptions on my person, to be shown consistently throughout the day, a free target for harassment and abuse. People in general are willing to do whatever it takes to rid themselves of the virus infecting the body of the state (Hitlerian philosophy). In panic, the desire to find an equitable solution leads to the kind of risk overcompensation we currently suffer the irrationality of.
In their fervour, they don’t see authoritarian streaks coming out, because they have always been on the cusp of becoming fully-fledged authoritarians. Ergo, their behaviour is seen as a simple evolving continuation of the values they’ve always believed to be good, since they are good, morally superior people. This may be why people incessantly call each other ‘idiots, stupid, morons’ because they
are the ones who know, and everyone else needs to be controlled for their own sake.
As time goes by, for many the only real option is to continue sinking cost, and to further put up barriers to self-reflection and criticism. This creates traumatic cognitive dissonance, which is very difficult to reason with in short order. Many will crave more mandates, bans, compulsions and diktats whilst believing themselves even more superior than the day before. Historically this grandiosity leads to severe mortal consequence. It is the mistaken belief that we are different or more evolved, that will ironically lead us to the most base, primitive behaviour. This mistaken belief that one is especially moral may be precisely what makes one susceptible to actualising their authoritarianism.
This virtuous safety can come at the persecution of minorities for their ‘common good.’ As you may see, some of the most vitriolic supporters of our current authoritarianism use regurgitated talking points, whilst advocating for abuse of dissenters from orthodoxy at the least, to near-genocide at worst. If they had power for a day, especially now, like Hitler they could become a working-class hero to the masses, the arbiter of common sense at last. A narcissist for a co-dependent.
The authoritarian personality is not to be confused with the authoritarian enabler. A chunk of the population living in apathy and wilful ignorance will accept and mould around any system, even the most horrifying, including compliance in genocide. Trauma can be so repressed that people will do anything to avoid thinking about it or facing reality, hence the dominance of materialism and distraction through compulsive entertainment mediums.
Evolutionarily speaking, it may be that the authoritarian mindset is completely normal and natural, and that the individual freedoms we may have briefly enjoyed were an unsustainable experiment. Repeating brutality may be an intrinsic and unavoidable cycle. The remedy to the authoritarian personality may be illumination. People generally are good, but we are all susceptible to entering the trance of especially strong-willed authoritarians. What keeps many from speaking that goodness to power is a ‘tyranny of manners’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP6mApouvAw&t=736s
[12:16 - 12:56]) that keeps us from risking social and financial rejection, and as a result of lockdown measures, state prosecution. Many simply don’t understand the consequences of their desire or apathy writ large on reality. They are not evil or malicious, they are scared, powerless, subsumed by dislocation of what was promised to be an unchangeable ‘normal’ reality. It is the banality of tyranny.
Modernity puts us in a perfect storm for authoritarianism on a wide scale. An invisible existential threat, isolation, lack of education, overwhelming external influence through social media, weak family and interpersonal dynamics. A core human strength is the ability to adapt to almost any condition, but the danger is this adaptability can allow us to accept de-evolution into primitive states. There are many studies that show the true malleability of the human mind, and our deep susceptibility to propaganda and manipulation. Many people don’t seem to need the vast amount of rights and freedoms they have enjoyed, and have shown over the decades how willing they are to give up anything for ‘an easy life.’ The authoritarian readily declares that they are the victim, doing what is necessary through their own unaware abuse.
We must all question whether we are slipping into our authoritarian nature, and do what we can to allow those who have fallen into the trap the opportunity to figure out that quite often we suffer from delusion wrapped up in ego defences. The first step is admitting it. Reality is scary and requires grieving, but it is closer to truth than allowing cognitive distortions the impetus to continue building justification for a story of unquestionable and rigid beliefs.
Many authoritarians are too entrenched to be reached, they are dangerous. Many enablers are too far gone, or never had the capacity to begin with, and will sway with any fetid breeze. I’ve been trying to get those afflicted to follow through on their policy ideas to see where the slippery slope goes, yet challenging them to admit these are authoritarian steps has led to massive pushback, because the perceived threat takes prevalence over all other moral concerns. It seems to be that as people believe the end justifies the means, any amount of horror towards that goal is acceptable, any denial a viable excuse. Their hearts seem to be in the right place, it is just their minds that are compromised into unreality through overwhelming and incessant fear programming. It is that very desire to care for others that sabotages.
Our essential goodness can be more powerful than our latent authoritarianism, but it takes work. We must continuously question ourselves, admit we all fit on the spectrum, and compassionately offer ways for those entrapped to recognise the natural susceptibility to authoritarianism. Such a challenge threatens their assumption of intrinsic goodness, which can cause regression into limbic reaction when backed into a logical cul-de-sac. There’s no telling what horrors a person may commit if it meant the safety of their loved ones, so tread carefully on their [distorted] core values.
Our present and future humanity depends on our ability to illuminate whoever we can that good intentions under duress foments the natural inclination towards authoritarianism. To heal we need to become aware that the unintended consequences of such hubris and lethargy will take people further away from the kind of inclusive and caring world we all want to create.
[EDIT - Thanks for the gold, lovely anonymous person! I'll make sure to share with others here for dopamine boosts on good posts :D)