I’ve recently read Adorno’s publication, The Authoritarian Personality, and I share my perspective and thoughts.
This study was performed post-World War 2 and published in 1950. It was meant to determine if a relationship existed between anti-semitism, ethnocentrism, and fascism (cum authoritarianism) and compared several psychometric tests to determine the correlation between cohort groups. The new test was called the F Scale test, a pale attempt to hide the purpose of the Fascism Test.
What’s interesting to me, is how these map to the épistémè of the day, but perhaps that’s more a reflection on how ripe some populations were for fascism. In many ways, it’s dated,and many have questioned the approach and methodology. Moreover, some have noted that the correlation with fascism may simply be a correlation with authoritarianism more generally.
Before I get to the main content, I admit that I don’t agree with the psychoanalytical vantage. In fact, I equate psychoanalysis with astrology and tarot cards. To this end, I ignore the etiological aspects. I also feel that the fixation on anti-semitism is overspecified, so the effects would map to any targeted out-group. Finally, I feel that the chosen categories are not mutually exclusive, so there are unnecessary covariances. I discuss these in turn. Adorno created 9 categories. The first is conventionalism.
Adherence to conventional values
By conventional, Adorno means traditional — people who find solace in the familiar. In my experience, most people are conventional and to a large degree. When I consider conventionalism, it’s about how people present themselves when they think they are being observed. I’m not sure that I’d differentiate closet rebels from people who are simply conventional to the bone. Many people will tell their closest confidantes how rebellious and unconventional they are…but only behind closed doors because they fear being judged and reprisals. In practice, they will even call out and chastise a person who has been caught being unconventional. This extends to beliefs, sexuality, and other propensities, such as recreational drug use.
Towards ingroup authority figures
Authoritarian submission also over-indexes across the board. Ostensibly, this is about obedience and deference. Even if one disagrees with an authority figure, they are unlikely to voice the disagreement and will quickly cave any defence when push comes to shove.
Note the in-group qualifier. In the United States, when George W Bush was president, the authoritarians railed on about how important it was to support whoever was president — until Obama became president. When Trump became president, it was important to fall into line behind the new leader, leaving differences in the past — until Biden became president. In practice, some of these people couch the ousted leader as the better or legitimate leader. Historically, this has led to fractures that have taken down nations. This is also the story behind the Sunni-Shia conflict of Islam.
Against people who violate conventional values
Authoritarian aggression is a natural extension of conventionalism and submission. I submit, and so should you — if only performatively, I will call you out. We can witness this when closet gay legislators not only pass laws against their own beliefs and activities, but they do so vocally, aggressively. The best defence is a strong offence. And better to be the accuser than the accused.
Opposition to subjectivity and imagination
Anti-Intraception is a fancy way of saying that one is an objectivist. Anti-intraception is a characteristic of the authoritarian personality which results in a low tolerance for creative thinking and emotion-importance; people who are anti-intraceptive (i.e. are not particularly self-aware) reject subjective thinking in favour of more concrete thinking (e.g. placing high importance on clearly observable facts instead of thoughts and feelings). There is no room for subjectivity or relativity. This is one god, one truth, and whatever the prevailing position of the day, with no room for perspective or interpretation. Other sources equate prescriptive optimism to be an effect of an anti-inceptive disposition.
Superstition and Stereotypy:
Belief in individual fate; thinking in rigid categories
I would have distinguished between superstition and stereotypy, but perhaps there is a strong correlation between the two. Stereotypy is where we get the need for strong categories and things like binary sex and no distinction between sex and gender. Superstition is obviously belief in improbable metaphysical forces and entities. This is where gods enter the equation. With superstition comes fatalism. Things are not within their control. Things just happen to them. They feel powerless, and so seek to align with the powerful, being somewhat subsumed by the bully. This is a perfect segue to the next characteristic.
Power and Toughness:
Concerned with submission and domination; assertion of strength
Power and toughness are where militarism and domination come into frame — Nietzsche 101. This is also projected and reflected onto leaders and representatives. Brawn is privileged over brains. Affiliated bullies are copacetic. It also manifests in ethnocentrism, jingoism, nationalism, and patriotism. We’re number one. We’ve got the best this and that, whether country, state, school, sports team, or Girl Scout Troop. It doesn’t matter. Everything is a competition, and I need to come out on top — if even only by association.
Destructiveness and Cynicism:
hostility against human nature
Excerpting from the text, this is about ‘the inability to identify with humanity [that] takes the political form of nationalism and cynicism about world government and permanent peace. It takes other forms, all based on ideas concerning the intrinsic evil (aggressiveness, laziness, power-seeking, etc.) of human nature; the idea that this evil is unchangeable is rationalized by pseudoscientific hereditarian theories of human nature. The evil, since it is unchangeable, must be attacked, stamped out, or segregated wherever it is found, lest it contaminate the good. The democratic alternative — humanitarianism — is not a vague and abstract “love for everybody” but the ability to like and dislike, to value and oppose, individuals on the basis of concrete specific experience; it necessarily involves the elimination of the stereotypical ingroup-outgroup distinction and all that goes with it‘.
As one can notice, this fits into the religious mindset. It’s also a prime motivation for genocide.
Perception of the world as dangerous; tendency to project unconscious impulses
Projectivity takes us to the Leviathan of Hobbes’ ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short‘ natural existence. It’s also takes the most blatant psychoanalytical aspect: projection. Enough said.
Overly concerned with modern sexual practices
Sex and sexuality ties back nicely to conformity and conventionalism as well as stereotypy. It manifests as repression, to borrow from psychoanalytical nomenclature. By and large, the reason these people want privacy in the bedroom is because of modesty. Make no mistake, these people practise plenty of deviances and excuse themselves in typical attribution bias fashion. When caught in the act, they make excuses for their deviance rather than to defend their personal rights. Some of these deviances are not actually deviance from practice. Rather, the deviation is versus belief.
Whilst I agree with the sentiment of sexuality, this feels like it’s already been captured as a special case of conventionalism and is a quaint throwback to the Freudian obsession.
Speaking for myself, I’m not certain that a post-modern can be a fascist. First, what post-modern is a conventionalist or traditionalist. The only recognised authority is the underside of a power relationship. Without a recognised authority, there is nothing to react against. A key element of postmodernism is subjectivity over objectivity, which helps to explain why authoritarians like Jordan Peterson so vehemently oppose even the notion of postmodernism. Postmoderns eschew categories or make them so expansive as to not provide much gravity for stereotypes. I can’t speak for other postmoderns, but I am a pacifist and conscientious objector. I’ve got no tolerance for power plays, alpha males, and machismo. I am a bit of a cynic, but it’s not from some sense of evil caricatures. I don’t even believe in the notion of good or evil. I don’t believe in nature, let alone human nature. These are just facile categories to contain stereotypes. Where have I seen that before? Do I project my unconscious as my perception of the world? The shadow knows. And then there’s sex. My sex life and my insouciance of others’ sex lives are not necessarily in sync. I’m no pansexual, but neither do I care if someone is. Not my monkeys. Not my circus. I am not overly fixated on sex — especially what everyone else is or isn’t doing.
I’ve avoided reading much Adorno over the years, primarily because I was put off by his work on media and culture. And in general, I am put off by people holding onto teleological propositions. I’m amazed that I hadn’t tripped over his work on authoritarianism.
I’ve always questioned authority, and authoritarians and even mainstream people have painted me as being oppositional to authority because of my upbringing, taking a psychoanalytic approach. Being suspicious of psychoanalysis and its tendency towards conformitivism, I received similar criticism. In the 1980s, Robert Altemeyer renamed the authoritarian personality Right-Wing Authoritarianism, as this was in step with the times and in recognition that there other authoritarian constructs outside of the Right and Fascism.
I’m not sure I ever needed permission to question authority and confirmation, but somehow Adorno does just that. The blind faith Adorno attributes to Fascism, has always rubbed me like a priest. For all intents and purposes, I ignored the Semitic and psychoanalytic aetiology, focusing instead on the attributes.
All of this said, it is easy to create a stereotypical heuristic strawman, if you will, and live in fear for the many people who seem to fit this bill. Meantime, I’ll occupy my time elsewhere.