Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Chapter 9 from: Vinod K. Kool & John J. Ray (Eds.) "Authoritarianism across cultures". Bombay, India: Himalaya Publishing House, 1983



Among social scientists in general and among psychologists in particular, the concept of authoritarianism has long been a popular one. Much of this popularity stemmed from the influential work by Adorno et al (1950). This group of four Jewish authors, writing from California, gave an account of authoritarianism that aspired to be an explanation for the rise of German Nazism. They saw authoritarianism as a particular personality trait resulting from early childhood experience with authority figures that would, in the right (or wrong ?) circumstances bring about support for authoritarian political regimes. Authoritarians are, in other words, crypto-Fascists.

This was a relatively novel use of an old word. Insofar as it had been used at all before Adorno et al came along, it had been used -- as the Qxford Dictionary reveals -- to describe political regimes or systems, not primarily persons. Insofar as it was applied to persons, it was applied to indicate a philosophy (of government) to which they subscribed -- not a personality trait.

This "new" personality trait was described as a complex of many covarying attributes. The authoritarian was described as extrapunitive, ethnocentric, conservative, dogmatic, superstitious, antisemitic, rigid, intolerant of ambiguity cynical, ,destructive, projective, conventional and at the one time both aggressive and submissive. With such a "rogues gallery" of attributes, it was clear why the California authors did end up -referring to authoritarianism as a "disease".

The key element in this characterization, however, was the one last named -- that a person who was submissive to authority would, when given the opportunity, be punitive and aggressive towards others. The key thing that made the characterization as a whole attractive was probably on the one hand that it was fairly recognizable as what would be required of any member of a military organization (such as the Army) and on the other that it did seem a rather useful stick to beat conservatives with. Adorno et al did in fact appear to see conservatism as just a milder form of authoritarianism.

Since 1950, the whole of the California conception of authoritarianism seems to have fallen apart. The rock (or reef) on which it foundered was the simple fact that the host of covarying attributes that Adorno et al described could be shown not in fact to covary at all. The "pre-Fascist attitudes," described by Adorno et al in their 'F' scale could be shown to be indistinguishable from traditional conservative attitudes (or at least a sub-set of them -- See Ray, 1973) but whether these attitudes went with authoritarian behaviour, rigidity, racism, maladjustment and the like was a different matter (See Shils, 1954; Ray, 1971, 1972 & 1976; Brown, 1965).

The most important of these failures to covary, however, was surely the finding that people who behaved in authoritarian way (whether aggressive or submissive) were not particularly likely to hold authoritarian attitudes. This has been extensively documented in Ray (1976) so need not be elaborated on here. Clearly, if we are interested in studying and understanding actual authoritarian political and social systems, we now know that we will get no enlightenment from studies of authoritarian attitudes.

This chapter, therefore, will not be concerned with surveys of British attitudes. In addition, it will not be concerned to examine whether or not British people tend to have more or less authoritarian personalities. [There already is some evidence available on this question (Ray, 1979) that indicates that they do not have especially authoritarian personalities on the whole.] What the paper will be concerned to do, then, is to ask whether or not the political and social organization that is Britain today tends to be characterized by authoritarian practices and behaviours. Even if modal British attitudes and personalities are not particularly authoritarian, it could still be the case that the political system devised in response to those attitudes has unintended consequences and it could also be the case that people's behaviour is as much affected by social systems surviving from the past as it is by their own personality. A further possibility is that a modal personality characteristic other than authoritarianism itself could give rise to an authoritarian set of behaviours. It is often remarked in the Army that a new officer or one who does not know his job tends to be particularly authoritarian. Thus, if newness or incompetence can give rise to, authoritarian practices, so too could, for instance, shyness or lack of self-confidence. (cf. Naidu and Sinha, 1972 ; Rammurthi and Ganakannan, 1972).

The present author's qualifications for discussing the subject are on the one hand, his extensive prior research experience with authoritarianism and, on the other, the simple fact that he can bring to the British the benefit of a sympathetic outsider's view. As an Australian, I grew up on British books and lived in a society where roughly 15% of the population is still British-born. Now that I have spent a sabbatical year in London during which I met innumerable English people from all walks of life, I think I should have the sort of claim to being able to give an objective account that an anthropologist has after participant observation of a tribal society. In general, the value of an outsider's view stems from what it does not take for granted. There is sufficient dissimilarity between Britain and Australia to ensure ample scope for differing expectations between members of the two populations. As I have also spent some time in California, that society too must inevitably figure in the comparisons I wish to make.

My overall impression of Britain is shock at what an authoritarian society it is. California, by contrast, appeared irrepressibly free and individualistic.

In saying the above I have knowingly violated two very, strong prejudices in British thought: That Britain is the home of liberty and that nothing good can come out of America (Galilee... ?). I think it is vital that these preconceptions be suspended long enough for the actual evidence to be considered. I will propose that in many ways the average Briton (particularly the Londoner) behaves in ways similar to what is expected of members of a military organization such as the Army. These characteristics were rightly identified (but fallaciously explained) by Adorno et al (1950) as a tendency for the leadership to be a non-democratically chosen elite and for the rest of the society to await direction wherever possible from above and accept uncomplainingly whatever was meted out to them. Knowing the California from which Adorno et al wrote, I can well understand how obscene the concept of such a society must have seemed from such a vantage-point.


Yet, compared with American society, all these things are almost as true of Britain today as they ever were of National Socialist Germany. Take, for instance, elitism in government: How is it that the most popular politician in Britain (i.e., as the polls repeatedly attest, Enoch Powell) has no political power? If Britain had the U. S. constitution, Mr. Powell's popularity with the ordinary people of Britain would undoubtedly long ago have made him President. "Well, thank God Britain hasn't got the U.S. Constitution", most readers will exclaim at this point. But this is an elitist, not a democratic response. It assumes that we, the intelligentsia, know best and damn the people. "Big brother knows what's best for you". Joe Stalin said the same. Perhaps we should reflect here on Churchill's observation to the effect that democracy is the worst system of government there is except for every other system that man has tried.

The Constitution that would have given Britain President Powell gave America President Nixon and Vice President Agnew. Yet in retrospect, can anyone claim that those men were bad for their country or for the world? Not only did Nixon have the positive achievements of getting America out of Vietnam, giving de-facto recognition to China, getting at least some arms race limitation agreement with the Russians and standing by Israel in its hour of great need -- but to him must also be credited the negative and unintended achievement of showing vividly that not even the most powerful man in the land is beyond public accountability or the requirements of moral conduct. Nowhere could there be a more potent and admonitory demonstration of a people's refusal to accept corruption in government. Even if Nixon was a bad man, the democracy that insured his election still showed good results. I wish I could be as sure of the wisdom of the intelligentsia as I am of the advantages of democracy.

In Britain, then, Mr. Powell has no power because the political elite who comprise the major parties have decided that his views are beyond the pale. The elite of British society have still managed to retain the right to decide what options the people will be allowed to vote on. That there is such an elite is shown also in the fact that the Labour Party still has as its M. Ps. almost exclusively eminent or well-educated men. The proportion of Labour M. Ps. who have started out as manual workers is derisorily small. What the actual figure is does depend on your criteria for who is working class, but figures as low as 4% have appeared in the British press. This is from the party that claims to represent the working man!

In the U.S., this whole problem is circumvented by the process of letting the people decide not only who to elect but also who the candidates shall be. I refer to the system of "primaries" that seems so mysterious to much of the rest of the world. It is this system that ensured that a nobody like Jimmy Carter ("Jimmy who?") could aspire to and attain the highest office in the land. Had the choice of presidential candidates been left to a political elite, Jimmy Carter would perforce have stuck to farming peanuts. Even the French presidential system with its two stage elections allows for a greater range of democratic choice than the British. Another more well-known undemocratic feature of British government is of course the fact that a party gaining only 38% of the popular vote nation-wide can still come to rule. This is because of the primitive first-past-the-post voting system and one-member electorates which so penalize "minor" parties such as the Liberals. How can anyone call democratic a procedure by which a party can get 30% of the vote and only 1% of the seats in Parliament? A simple step to at least ameliorate this injustice would be the adoption of the Australian system of preferential voting. This encourages the emergence of new parties by eliminating from the voter's mind the fear of a "wasted" vote and also ensures that the party which does come to rule has a majority who prefer it to the next biggest party. It also allows for more subtlety of electoral choice -- without the fear of a "split" right or left-wing vote. For those who are not familiar with preferential voting, it is a system where one specifies not which candidate one prefers but rather one's order of preference for the various candidates (first preference, second preference, third preference etc -- denoted simply by the numbers, 1, 2, 3 .....). In the case of a three-party choice, the party with the smallest number of first choices would have its votes re-allocated to whichever of the remaining two parties were indicated as second preference on the various ballot slips.

In the U.S.A., of course, such problems hardly arise because of the way ideals of individualism and representation of electorates (in fact as well as in name) have thoroughly vitiated any tendency to evolve "party discipline" -- an authoritarian concept if ever there was one. In the House of Commons a "free vote" is a rarity. In Congress it is the rule. So which is the free country and which the authoritarian one?


It is in any case not seriously in dispute that Britain is a society still governed by a traditional elite. It is widely documented how such objectively trivial matters as one's accent and dress make the world of difference to one's social acceptability --even in the Britain of today. In America the penetration of large numbers of people of working-class and "ethnic" origin into the classes of the educated combined with the difficulty of regarding any of America's numerous geographical regions as "inferior" mean that accent is usually a very secondary consideration in evaluating the person. Dress too seems to follow altogether different rules in America. To my Australian eyes, Americans when they dress casually look like rag-bags. This is because they take the "casual" appellation seriously and quite simply don't much care how they look when so dressed. They certainly betray no anxiety about being "incorrectly" dressed. In Australia, by contrast, casual dress is so much the rule that some thought is generally given to it. When Americans are "dressed up'', however, another goal prevails. Again it is not the goal of dressing "correctly" or "respectably" that is predominant -- rather the much more individualistic goal of dressing "attractively". It is this difference in goals that lies behind what is to the British the absolutely lurid and tasteless standard of American dress. Because he is much more strait-jacketed by the requirements of conformity, the Briton can show his individuality in dress only by very minor deviations from a deliberately unobtrusive norm. The American, by contrast, is freer to experiment with and enjoy a full range of colours and patterns. American dress has the stress on individuality. British dress has the stress on conformity.

The most notable everyday evidence of this in Britain is the behaviour of the British in hot weather. In a normal summer Britain gets quite hot for at least a couple of weeks. Yet in temperatures that would have Australians and Americans into cooler clothes, the British businessman can still be observed on the "tube" in three-piece pin-striped woollen suit with sweat streaming down from under his bowler hat. The first feeling of an outsider confronted by such a sight is pity at the savagery of a society that can force such suffering on its members. This feeling soon evaporates, however, when one realizes that one's own cooler clothing is looked at not with envy or approbation but rather with mockery and derision. So strongly do the British feel this that in spite of their normality great politeness and reserve, I quite commonly got jeered and whistled at in the streets of London for wearing the shorts that I was accustomed to wear at similar temperatures in Australia. Amusement was also shown in other less vocal ways.

This experience was a great enlightenment to me in understanding the puzzling British boast that they are exceptionally tolerant of eccentricity. This boast is only true if one accepts a British definition of eccentricity. They define as eccentric behaviour that in other societies would be accepted without thought as perfectly normal (such as wearing shorts in hot weather). Even given their own exceptionally narrow definition, of non-eccentric behaviour, however, British "tolerance" seemed highly qualified.


In fact, intolerance for any deviations from the social norms, is a definitional part of any authoritarian social system so in asking whether Britain is an authoritarian society, we must also ask: is it an intolerant society?

Immediately, of course, Britons will point to their anti-racial-discrimination legislation as a cachet of respectability in this area. In fact, of course, it proves the opposite. No racially Northern European society has proved able to live in harmony with large numbers of blacks (not even the endemically bourgeois New Zealanders. One of the campaign "jokes" of Robert Muldoon, whom they recently gave a landslide electoral victory, was: "What's five miles long, brown and dangerous? Answer: "A Maori land-rights march") and all have had to resort to legislation to control the problem. The only difference is that Britain's legislation is not only particularly draconian but is in the process of being "strengthened".

The hypocrisy of the British in this matter, in fact, is truly amazing to an outsider. Practically any educated Briton will roundly condemn the South African government for locking up political agitators with officially disapproved attitudes to racial questions, yet at the same time support exactly the same thing in Britain --where a National Front member was locked up recently for displaying in his own yard a sign saying: "House for Sale, Whites only". The double-think required to justify this, and at the same time call Britain a land of free speech must be truly colossal. Just as Stalin once said that there is perfect freedom of speech in Russia "for those who agree with me", so in Britain one has free speech only if one agrees with elite values. It should not need to be said that the only point of a policy of free speech is to protect those holding unpopular views. Popular views do not need such guarantees of freedom for their expression. The elites in the two countries have come to different and indeed opposite conclusions on the racial question but I don't see how freedom of speech is any greater in Britain than it is in South Africa. Both are fundamentally authoritarian societies. The only difference is that England has an infinitely smaller proportion of blacks to contend with.

The most important form of intolerance in Britain, however, is not racial at all. It is intolerance by the elite and educated people generally for the working class. This hardly needs documenting but it does give the lie to the starry-eyed liberals everywhere who see education as the panacea for all intolerance.

Education in both Britain and the U.S.A. does demonstrably reduce racial prejudice but that is only because racial tolerance is directly or indirectly inculcated. There seems to be little generalizing effect to other forms of intolerance, as the British experience shows. In North America, the proportion of working class people who reach tertiary education is very high -- roughly 30% of all high school graduates go on to further education. Hence an attitude of contempt for working class mannerisms, customs, dress, values and speech can scarcely be characteristic of educated people. In Britain, where this leaven is very largely absent, there is no inbuilt restraint on the proliferation of such "superior" attitudes. Perhaps because an educated Australian accent is rather similar to an educated English accent, I have not felt myself the brunt of such prejudices but I have been shocked at the attitudes educated Englishmen have felt free to admit to me. For instance the urbane and impressively aware manager of a large engineering firm told me once that if someone addressed him as "mate" (the characteristic but largely meaningless working-class form of address in both London and Australia) he would be polite but would think to himself "what does this obnoxious fool want to take to me like that for" or something of equivalent import. I just cannot imagine such a hostile response to a mere form of address from anyone in Australia.

In fact, I can understand why working class pleasures such as T.V. police dramas, football, cars and materialism generally are looked down on but so also can I understand racial prejudice. Class-keyed prejudice is no more commendable than race-keyed prejudice. Britain has plenty of both. So relentless is England's class-prejudice, in fact, that not to share it is often something of a faux pas. In Australia, being of lower social class is the subject of a sort of inverted snobbery. One is proud of working class antecedents or origin and among both the intelligentsia and the middle class, generally one will often vocally proclaim as much of oneself as worthy of praise. This gambit backfires badly if naively transferred to similar company in Britain. Instead of being seen as a good-humoured claim to especial worth, an acknowledgement of working class origins is seen as rather equivalent to admitting that one has peed one's pants. No man in his right mind would ever publicise it. The jocular inverted snobbery of egalitarian Australia and the deadly serious traditional snobbery of authoritarian England make it very clear which society is more backward in its social evolution. In the hearts of British people, feudal Britain still lives on.


The contempt by those with power and influence for those without is not limited just to the upper ranges of English society. In true authoritarian style, even those low in the hierarchy still savour exercising their power over those even lower down. The most everyday demonstration of this can be seen in shops, offices and businesses where the public come to be served. When one goes into an Australian or American shop or business, the customer, by and large, is, as a matter of policy, king. Every effort is made to coax his money out of him. In British shops, by contrast, one is quite generally left with the impression that the customer is something of a nuisance. No matter how minor the degree of authority that has been given to the shop-assistant or clerk (generally the authority to give information, take your money and hand out the goods), he still expects you to be a suppliant in recognition of his momentarily greater position of power. In most of the world, doing business is an equal transaction -- one side is pleased to get the money and the other is pleased to get the goods. Only in Britain is the provision of the most routine facility made to look as if one is being done a favour. No wonder British business is in such a parlous state!

One of the most consistent features of military organizations is behavioural rigidity, a love of form and a devotion to "red tape". Needless to say, all this is also a hallmark of Bureaucratic Britain. A simple example of this is the way one is required to produce two references to open a cheque account with a British bank. What this meaningless formality is supposed to achieve other than inconveniencing people recently arrived in the country is hard to imagine. This is particularly so if one realizes that major Australian and American banks seem to get on quite nicely without such a formality. No doubt there is in fact some advantage for the bank in this procedure. The point is that in other countries the amount of clerical work generated and the inconvenience to the customer are seen as more than outweighing this. In Britain, of course, neither of these latter would have been considered.

Another example of how authoritarian rigidity can clothe custom with the force of law in Britain again concerns the banks. When my wife wished to open an external account, she was required to produce certification of the money's external origin. As she had got the money directly from me, I offered to provide this, also producing my passport to show I had just arrived in Britain. The bank official of course said, "Oh no. We want confirmation from another bank". When I said, "Well I'll give you the name of my bank and you ring them up", he replied, "No, you have to go yourself and get it in writing from them." Amazed that they saw documentation as my problem and not their problem, I became irritated enough to challenge their need for the certification to come from another bank. I was told it was a matter of law. Being very un-British, I said, "Show me." Had I not begun to speak very loudly and thus to create that thing most dreaded of all Britons -- a "scene" -- this request would never have been complied with. As it was, the set of regulations finally produced for my perusal appeared to make quite clear provision for certification to originate from an individual rather than a bank. Because in the past everybody had meekly submitted to the authoritarian demand for bank certification, the bank officials had come to assume that this was a legal requirement. Custom becomes law. Confronted with this unprecedented situation of a customer who appeared to have the regulations on his side ("the mouse that roared"!), the bank official could only respond -- guess how? by resorting to higher authority ("I will have to refer this to the Bank of England ').

In California I also found that opening an account with external funds seemed to create a flurry. I was handed from one confused bank official to another in rapid succession. The difference was that they all saw the documentation as their problem. They all ran around getting it right-apologizing meanwhile for keeping me waiting. The difference in attitude could not have been more extreme.

I had always assumed that a bank would want to make it easy for one to deposit money with them. I had to come to Britain to learn otherwise.

That the above experience was not an isolated one is testified to by very similar episodes reported by an American visitor to Britain (Bell, 1978). It is also testified to by the prevalence of similar attitudes among British newspapers. In Sydney, I run a Baroque Music Listening group, I notify meetings at my home (typical attendance about a dozen) by picking up the phone a day before and placing an advertisement in our major Saturday paper. I got a rude stock when I tried to do the same in London. Not only would they not take the advertisement over the phone but it had to be prepaid, in writing, submitted at least a week in advance, and accompanied by two written references! A more hilarious way to do business and a surer way of discouraging the customer, one could hardly imagine. The rationale is no doubt to avoid "abuses" --- but at what cost in time, money and convenience! Sydney is just as violent, deceitful and cosmopolitan as London. Why is what is good enough for Sydney not as good for London? The answer is surely that in London "proper form" is given a degree of irrational reverence that it certainly does not get in Australia or America.

Even the famous British queue is far more reprehensible than the British imagine it. To the British it seems a very fair and even egalitarian way of allocating excess demand -- which to some extent it is. The contrast with the more individualistic U.S.A. is, however, instructive. The Americans, in fact, do not even use the word "queue". The only way they have of referring to the phenomenon is by use of the more general word "line". The reason is that American "lines" move much faster. Disneyland, for example, must have the longest queues in the Western World. But one never stands still in them. One is continually moving forward -- even though at a shuffle. In short, where queues are likely to develop, the Americans try to do something about it. They streamline and speed up operations to maximize through-put. Instead of seeing the queue as an amorphous mass of obedient suppliants who "know their place", they see the queue as a large number of respect-worthy individuals who will not tolerate being treated like a flock of sheep. Again the basic difference is one of attitude: Authoritarians do not see a queue as a problem. Individualists do. The British are, in at least this respect, closer to Joseph Stalin than to Abraham Lincoln.


Because it has been so widely treated elsewhere, I will not spend much time on what is of course the greatest proof of all of English authoritarianism: what Orwell so vividly called "Ingsoc" -- English socialism. Most developed Western countries have some sort of welfare state. Few have such vast tracts of nationalized industry as Britain. In degree of government ownership of industry, Britain is second only to the communist countries. Government decisions (decisions from the top) rather than individual decisions order British activity. The comparison with America does not need to be drawn.

This all-pervading government influence is highly pernicious. For instance, because it has switched its rental-housing provision from private to public (bureaucratic) hands. Britain has encountered massive costs that can only be expressed in reduced supply and long waiting lists. This gives rise to pervasive jealousies among those who have not towards those who have (the very thing socialism was supposed to prevent). Thus, an Englishman who is still on the waiting list who sees someone named "Patel" (a Pakistani name) already in possession of a council house suddenly starts to vote for the racist National Front. "What right has he got to a house when ordinary Englishman can't get one?" he says. If almost all housing were in private hands -- as in Australia or the U.S.A. -- the question would hardly arise. There is ample housing at affordable rents for all and the fact that a man has a house simply means that he works hard enough to pay its rent. With housing in private hands there are some wicked capitalists who do that most un-British thing of making a profit, but it doesn't cost the taxpayer a penny and the average standard of housing is far higher. To the average Briton (or the average Russian) this must seem like the promised land. To an authoritarian society it is. Bureaucracy is about as good a way to build houses as it is to grow crops. Bureaucracy needs uniformity -- something hard to enforce in both housing and agriculture.


One of the most surprising things one hears in Britain today is the way Britons bewail the loss of the "Dunkirk spirit". The recognition of Britain as an authoritarian society makes this loss no mystery. This is because there is in fact one thing for which authoritarianism is very good -- warfare. The Prussian and Nazi armies by any criterion were extremely efficient as armies. The Prussian territorial achievements are not disputable. There is however, a danger that the survivals of wartime propaganda myths might blind us to the achievements of the Nazis. The plain fact is that 70 million Germans took on 200 million Americans, 224 million Russians and 100 million other Europeans and very nearly turned the trick. With one or two of Hitler's decisions made differently, the Nazis would have won. As it happened, it took authoritarian Britain to beat authoritarian Germany. No-one would claim that Britain and Nazi Germany are the same. The British elite tend to pursue less risky objectives and justify themselves more cleverly but the acceptance of authority on the part of the people is equally slavish. So then, the fact that Britain was at her best only in an all-engrossing war is just what we would expect of an authoritarian society.

If elitism in government is one side of authoritarianism, submissiveness in the governed is the other. For this, of course, the British people are notorious. That they are so "law-abiding" appears to go deep into their character. No matter how imbecilic the law, the British will obey it. The Prussian martinets who demanded that their troops be kadaver gehorsam (corpse-like obedience) could not ask for more. In America, of course, laws are widely judged by whether people obey them. Legislators are certainly not judged to have a monopoly of wisdom. The revolt over conscription for the war in Vietnam is merely the most obvious case in point. In refusing to obey laws they considered bad, these young Americans were, of course, re-asserting the basic precept of the Nuremberg war-crimes tribunals -- that "Befehl ist Befehl" (orders are orders) is not alone an adequate ground for action. One has a duty to disobey bad laws. One wonders how many Britons feel bound by such a duty.

Even the constant union troubles among the British workers are a sign of their incapacity as individuals. The average Briton is so unaccustomed to taking individual action or asserting himself alone that he has to resort to a huge collectivity -- the union ---to make his protests heard. Like all true authoritarians he can only function (and is only expected to function) as one of a group -- be it a platoon, a regiment, a crowd of football hooligans or a union.

Even in their groups, however, the British are amazingly submissive. Who elsewhere could believe that the very trade unions who seem to be the main source of rebellion in the country would in the late 1970s voluntarily accept cuts in their members' real incomes (the various "phases" of so-called "wage restraint") rather than accept a cut in the functions of their bloated bureaucratic government? To see Communist union leaders belabouring their own members into accepting cuts in their real wages can only be a truly remarkable proof of the submissiveness of both the members and their leaders.

In conclusion, let me say that, as an Australian, I grew up to think well of and admire Britain. British propaganda about their own moral superiority reaches far. For my sins I still believe that Britons have in them dynamism and creativity that transformed the world in the Victorian era. Only the authoritarianism of their society stands in the way of its expression. Fortunately, on the evidence of the findings in Ray (1979); it would seem that the greater authoritarianism of their society is not a reflection of greater authoritarianism among Englishmen at the basic personality level. It is then a reflection of the social structures they have inherited from the past. The two societies I have compared England with are both emigrant societies and as such have obviously had greater chances to break with the past.

Unfortunately, Britain seems to be building up even more and more institutions for the regulation of the life of the average Englishman rather than trying to break down or reduce the structuring of the society. Unless then Britain makes a sudden turn towards embracing an effective minimum government philosophy, it will become even more Army-like in the future than it is now. If even the iron-willed Mrs Thatcher cannot make any dent in Bureaucratic Britain, what hope is there for others?


Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. The Authoritarian Personality, N.Y. : Harper, 1950.

Bell, D. A report on England: the future that never was. The Public Interest 1978, 51, 35-73.

Brown, R. Social psychology N.Y. : Free Press, 1965.

Naidu, R.K. & Sinha, D. Anxiety and conformity behaviour. J. Psychological Researches, 1972, 16, 40-48.

Rammurthi, P.V., Ganakannan, I. Rigidity-flexibility characteristics of secure and insecure individuals. J. Psychological Researches, 1972, 16, 54-55.

Ray, J.J. (1971) An "Attitude to Authority" scale. Australian Psychologist, 6, 31-50.

Ray, J.J. (1972) Militarism, authoritarianism, neuroticism and anti-social behavior. Journal of Conflict Resolution 16, 319-340.

Ray, J.J. (1973) Conservatism, authoritarianism and related variables: A review and an empirical study. Ch. 2 in: G.D. Wilson (Ed.) The psychology of conservatism London: Academic Press.

Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

Ray, J.J. (1979) Authoritarianism in Australia, England and Scotland. Journal of Social Psychology 108, 271-272.

Shils, E.A. Authoritarianism "Right" and "Left." In R. Christie & M. Jahoda (Eds.) Studies in the method and scope of "The authoritarian personality" N.Y. : Free Press, 1954.


Most of the above article was written in 1978. Since then there has been considerable convergence between Britain and the USA. Both countries now have, for instance, moved their economies onto a Nazi or Fascist model -- with most businesses run by businessmen but under tight State supervision and regulation -- all for "the common good", of course: "Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz", as Hitler put it.


Thursday, February 02, 2006

Although this article is in my view academically sound, it was written in October, 2003, by which time I had finally lost interest in submitting material to academic journals


John J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia


Four articles concerned with conservatism and racism written by A. Van Hiel and his associates are briefly reviewed. The theories put forward in the four articles are largely derived from the "authoritarian personality" theory of Adorno et al. (1950). His conclusions are however rendered very dubious by his uncritical use of such problematical scales as the RWA, SDO and Kruglanski NFC scales.

Key Words: SDO, RWA, Conservatism, racism, authoritarian, Rightist, Leftist, closure, openness

Alain van Hiel and his collaborators have in recent years written a number of articles on the psychology of politics -- some of which are rather imaginatively titled -- e.g. "The march of modern fascism. A comparison of social dominance orientation and authoritarianism". They would at first glance appear to represent a substantial contribution to knowledge in the area so deserve some attention. It turns out, however, that all of the articles are essentially a modern-day reprise of the old Adorno et al. (1950) theory that conservatives are "authoritarian" -- a theory which has of course been the target of sustained criticism over the last 50 years. So is the Van Hiel work then really any advance? I wish to review here very briefly four of the articles concerned in the belief that such a review will show that their conclusions are as dubious as those of the Adorno et al work.

Three of the four articles are in Personality & Individual Differences (Van Hiel, Kossowska & Mervielde, 2000; Duriez & Van Hiel, 2003 and Van Hiel, Mervielde & De Fruyt, In press) and one is in Political Psychology (Kossowska & Van Hiel, 2003).

The Van Hiel, Kossowska & Mervielde (2000) study was rather notable in the literature of political psychology in that it used community as well as student samples. The aim of the study appeared to be to show that conservatives are less open to experience than others but the expected correlation appeared only in the "adult" and "student" samples and not at all in a sample of politically-involved respondents. In other words, people with a definite conservative orientation were just as likely as Leftists to be open to experience. Even more awkwardly for the theory, however, the subscale measuring openness to ideas in particular showed a positive correlation with conservatism among the politically aware respondents. Among politically-aware people it was LEFTISTS who were closed-minded!

The use of "Openness to experience" is of course highly reminscent of the "intolerance of ambiguity" and "rigidity" variables employed by Adorno et al in their theory and the upshot of much research into those variables would appear to be that they are not traits at all but rather situational responses which vary according to circumstances (Ray, 1990b). Such variability could then well explain the unexpected results reported in Van Hiel, Kossowska & Mervielde (1990). In a situation where people are actively thinking about their political attitudes very different results emerge from what is otherwise found.

In the next study Duriez & van Hiel (2002) are, like Adorno et al., principally concerned with an attempt to explain racism. The predictors used did however make the enterprise an unlikely one from the start. They used the SDO scale (Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth & Malle, 1994), the RWA scale (Altemeyer, 1988) and the F scale (Adorno et al., 1950) -- all of which appear to measure some form of conservatism but all of which have large problems.

Despite it current fashionability, the SDO scale is a particularly naive piece of work. What do the statements in the SDO scale say? As Jost & Thompson (2000) have pointed out, fully half of its items specifically ask people whether or not they accept social inequality (Sample items: "It would be good if all groups could be equal" and "We should strive to make incomes more equal"). But anyone who knows the first thing about politics will be aware that "equality" is a great mantra of the Left and that conservatives view the whole idea of equality as absurd. Leftists believe that in some mystical way "all men are equal" and conservatives reject equality as an unattainable myth. Ever since the Pilgrim Fathers, attempts to found societies based on equality have quickly degenerated into pervasive and permanent INequality. So the SDO theory that conservatives reject equality is laughably unoriginal. It is no wonder that the SDO scale predicts conservatism in other senses. Fully half of the items in the scale relate to what has always been a core conservative belief. The correlation between SDO and conservatism is then artifactual.

Parenthetically, it might be noted that the SDO scale is claimed to be a personality scale when it is not. As the sample items above show, it is an attitude scale. But social dominance HAS previously been measured via a personality scale (the "Directiveness" scale) and when that is done social dominance turns out to have NO overall relationship to Left/Right orientation (Ray, 1983; Ray & Heaven, 1984). In other words, a belief in the inevitability of inequality is NOT an outcome of an overbearing personality.

But what about the correlation usually found (e.g. Heaven & St. Quintin, 2003) between SDO and racism? What does that imply? Let us look at what the other half of the items in the SDO scale say: They say things like: "Inferior groups should stay in their place", "Superior groups should dominate inferior groups" and "Some groups of people are just more worthy than others". So people who believe that there are inferior and superior groups also believe that there are inferior and inferior races. How astounding! Since races are groups, the finding that the SDO scale predicts racism is in fact LOGICALLY ENTAILED. It parades as an empirical finding but it is not. It tells us nothing new about the world. It is merely something that is true by definition. So it is no wonder that Duriez & Van Hiel found the correlation they did. Just as the F scale of Adorno et al (1950) was widely held to have an inbuilt Rightist bias, the SDO scale clearly has an inbuilt racist bias.

And the Altemeyer RWA scale that Duriez & van Hiel used has similarly risible properties. Altemeyer himself, on p. 239 of his 1988 book Enemies of Freedom makes the bald statement that "Right-wing authoritarians show little preference in general for any political party". In other words, these supposed Right-wingers are just as likely to vote for a Leftist as a Rightist political party. Particularly in the general population, roughly half of these supposed "Rightists" vote for Leftist parties! Altemeyer himself has shown that his scale lacks basic predictive validity. What on earth this scale really measures can therefore only be conjectured. My best guess is that -- like the F scale (Ray, 1990a) -- the RWA scale measures some sort of old-fashioned conservatism that no longer has political relevance. It certainly reads very similarly to many conservatism scales.

It should be noted that the F scale also gives a negligible prediction of vote in general population samples (Ray, 1983) but that there are plenty of conservatism scales that DO predict vote. Ray (1984a), for instance reported a robust .50 correlation between vote and a scale of general conservatism in a community-wide sample.

The Duriez & van Hiel (2002) results are therefore either true by definition (SDO) or uninterpretable (RWA). And that the F scale also does not predict racist attitudes for the reasons usually given has been shown at length elsewhere (Ray, 1988).

In the third study -- by Van Hiel, Mervielde & De Fruyt (In press) -- the authors appear to have adopted something of a "shotgun" approach -- using an existing large battery of psychopathology scales in the hope that one or more would show a correlation with conservatism. The results in the body of the article, however, seem to be at some variance with the abstract. The authors do again look at Openness to Experience as a predictor of conservatism but conclude finally that openness to experience is completely non-political -- though it may be noted that they appear not to have repeated the procedure which gave such awkward results previously -- dissecting out responses on the Openness to Ideas subscale only.

Out of the large number of scales that they examined, they did however find two factors which correlated significantly with their measure of conservative ideology -- Disagreeableness and Compulsiveness. The first correlation need not detain us long. At .14 (See their Table 3) it was significant only by virtue of the large sample size and is effectively negligible. Putting it another way, roughly half of all "disagreeable" people were found to be Leftists.

The second correlation -- between conservatism and compulsivemess -- is marginally more substantial at .22 but the factor generating it loads just one scale very heavily -- the Livesley & Jang (2000) "Compulsivity" scale -- and no other scales to any degree at all. So effectively what we have is just one scale out of the 18 scales in the Livesley & Jang battery which predicted conservatism. This looks very much like the sort of chance result that will be found in any large correlation matrix where a "shotgun" approach is adopted. An experiment-wise error-rate approach to significance testing would therefore have been appropriate but such a test was not offered. As the correlation is low, however, there is little doubt that it would drop to non-significance under such a test.

It is also very relevant to quote what Livesley (1998) himself says about this scale: "Compulsivity does not seem to be associated with the same level of dysfunction as the other patterns. Compulsivity is usually associated with a diagnosis of personality disorder only when it occurs with other maladaptive traits." That condition would not seem to have been met in the Van Hiel, Mervielde & De Fruyt (In press) study. Since an obsessive attention to detail seems to be almost mandatory for many important activities -- such as getting articles published in academic journals -- the Livesley observations are very much what one would expect. To see the 5% of common variance between this scale and conservatism as evidence of conservative psychopathology is then sadly misguided, regardless of what one thinks of the error-rate approach used.

Finally, writing in Political Psychology, Kossowska & Van Hiel (2003) present findings that "need for closure is associated with the adoption of conservative ideology". To demonstrate this, they used the Webster & Kruglanski (1994) Need for Closure Scale. Kruglanski & Webster (1996) have defined what their scale measures as: "The need for closure is a desire for definite knowledge on some issue". One would have thought that such a desire might also well be variable situationally and, if so, may partly explain why this scale has come under sustained attack from Neuberg and his associates. Neuberg, Judice, & West (1997a) initially criticized the scale on psychometric grounds, pointing out that it was not internally consistent. Kruglanski, Atash, De Grada, Mannetti, & Pierro (1997) replied to this saying: "Furthermore, no unidimensionality of the NFCS has been claimed, and none is required to use its total score for testing various theoretically derived predictions" and went on to refer to "questionable psychometric dogma".

Neuberg, West, Judice & Thompson (1997) replied to this attempt to dismiss psychometric data with a wave of the hand by explaining the importance of psychometrics in examining whether or not a scale measures what it purports to measure. To put it in Grade 4 terms, the Kruglanski group were adding up apples and oranges and getting watermelons.

One might note however that this sort of problem is a familiar one in the field concerned. For instance, the most widely-used measure of cognitive style is probably the Budner (1962) Intolerance of Ambiguity scale. Yet the positive and negative halves of this scale are completely uncorrelated (Ray, 1981). So which half is measuring intolerance of ambiguity? Since the two halves are uncorrelated, both halves cannot be. It must be said. therefore, that the two halves of the scale offer concurrent IN-validation for one-another. And Brown (1965, p. 509), of course, long ago noted that different measures of rigidity show little or no correlation with one-another.

Kossowska & Van Hiel (2003) were aware of the Neuberg criticisms but still had sufficient faith to use the Kruglanski scale. That their usage of such a questionable scale produced opposite results in Poland and Belgium is therefore hardly surprising. "Need for closure" was apparently Leftist in one country and Rightist in the other! If anything, the finding is yet another instance of of cognitive style variables being shown to be situational responses rather than stable and generalizable personality traits.

Furthermore, Even if more consistent results had been obtained, one would still have to ask how reasonable it is to characterize "a desire for definite knowledge on some issue" as psychopathological. Do we not carry out statistical analyses precisely because we want "definite knowledge on some issue"? Statisticians must be a sorry lot! And, just looking at some of Kruglanski's items (Kruglanski, Webster & Klem, 1993), are we sure that it is (for instance) psychopathological to say "I feel uncomfortable when I don't understand the reason why an event occurred in my life"? or: "I usually make important decisions quickly and confidently"? And are we sure that it is healthy to say: "I would describe myself as indecisive"? In the circumstances, then, the broad conclusions drawn from their study by Kossowska & Van Hiel (2003) would seem to be more an expression of faith in Kruglanski than reasonable inferences from the data.

In conclusion, the energy that Van Hiel and his associates have put into their work is highly commendable but re-ploughing the old Adorno et al furrow does not appear to have been a productive outlet for those energies. His literature reviews reveal Van Hiel as being well aware that there have been many past unsuccessful attempts to find psychopathologies that are particularly conservative so his continuing attempt to find evidence of such psychopathologies is certainly dauntless. Given the determination of his campaign and given a knowledge of the Rosenthal (1976) effect, the wonder is that he has produced so little effective support for his obvious expectations. Such a failure in fact speaks well for the honesty of his enterprise. Had his choice of measuring instruments been wiser, much more interesting results might have been expected from his efforts.


Altemeyer, R. (1988) Enemies of freedom: Understanding Right-wing authoritarianism. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Brown, R. (1965). Social Psychology, Free Press, New York.

Budner, S. (1962) Intolerance of ambiguity as a personality variable'. Journal of Personality 30, 29-50.

Duriez, B. & Van Hiel, A. (2002). The march of modern fascism. A comparison of social dominance orientation and authoritarianism. Personality and Individual Differences 32 (7), 1199-1213.

Heaven, P.C.L. & St. Quintin, D. (2003) Personality factors predict racial prejudice. Personality & Individual Differences 34, 625-634.

Kossowska, M. & Van Hiel, A. (2003) The Relationship Between Need for Closure and Conservative Beliefs in Western and Eastern Europe. Political Psychology 24 (3) 501.

Kruglanski, A. W., Atash, M. N., De Grada, E., Mannetti, L., & Pierro, A. (1997). Psychological theory testing versus psychometric nay saying: Need for closure scale and the Neuberg et al. critique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1005-1016.

Kruglanski, A. W., & Webster, D. M. (1996). Motivated closing of the mind: "Seizing" and "freezing". Psychological Review, 103, 263-283.

Kruglanski, A.W., Webster, D.M., & Klem, A. (1993). Motivated resistance and openness in the presence or absence of prior information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 23-35

Livesley, W. J., (1998) Suggestions for a Framework for an Empirically Based Classification of Personality Disorder. Canadian J. Psychiatry, Vol 43, No. 2., 137-147.

Livesley, W. J., Jang, K. L. (2000). Toward an empirically based classification of personality disorders. Journal of Personality Disorders, 14 (2), 137-151.

Neuberg, S.L., Judice, T.N., & West, S.G. (1997). What the Need for Closure Scale measures and what it does not: Toward differentiating among related epistemic motives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1396-1412.

Neuberg, S.L., West, S.G., Judice, T.N., & Thompson, M.M. (1997). On dimensionality, discriminant validity, and the role of psychometric analyses in personality theory and measurement: Reply to Kruglanski et al.'s (1997) defense of the Need for Closure Scale. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 1017-1029.

Ray, J.J. (1981) Explaining Australian attitudes towards Aborigines Ethnic & Racial Studies 4, 348-352.

Ray, J.J. (1983). Half of all authoritarians are Left-wing: A reply to Eysenck and Stone. Political Psychology, 4, 139-144.

Ray, J.J. (1984a) Attitude to abortion, attitude to life and
conservatism in Australia. Sociology & Social Research 68, 236-246.

Ray, J.J. (1984b) Political radicals as sensation seekers. J. Social Psychology 122, 293-294.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.

Ray, J.J. (1990a) The old-fashioned personality. Human Relations, 43, 997-1015.

Ray, J.J. (1990b) Politics and cognitive style: A rejoinder to Sidanius and Ward. Political Psychology 11, 441-444.

Ray, J.J. & Heaven, P.C. L. (1984) Conservatism and authoritarianism among urban Afrikaners. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 163-170.

Rosenthal, R. (1976) Experimenter effects in behavioral research N.Y.: Irvington.

Van Hiel, A., Kossowska, M. & Mervielde, I. (2000) The relationship between Openness to Experience and political ideology. Personality and Individual Differences 28 (4), 741-751

Van Hiel, A., Mervielde, I. & De Fruyt, F. (In press). The relationship between maladaptive personality and right wing ideology. Personality and Individual Differences

Webster, D. M., & Kruglanski, A. W. (1994). Individual differences in need for cognitive closure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1049-1062.


After I had looked closely at the four Van Hiel studies above, it seemed obvious to me that scrutiny of any more his work was unlikely to be enlightening about anything -- so I terminated my critique at that point. Since another of his articles came out in the same issue of the journal that carried my latest article, however, I was tempted to dip my toe into the morass just once more.

This latest (Van Hiel & Mervielde, 2003) is another article on "Need for closure". I had just started to get my head around the considerable complexities of the article when I noticed that its results were not statistically significant! In other words, a table of random numbers could have produced similar results! I am amazed that such stuff is getting published these days. The Leftist discomfort with reality is showing up more and more in academe, I guess. And one of Van Hiel's key measures in his study was the absurd Bieri scale of cognitive complexity. Van Hiel appears to have overlooked my "deconstruction" of that particular piece of nonsense. I will repeat here what I long ago (Ray, 1984) pointed out about the Bieri scale:

"In the Bieri cognitive simplicity test, if the respondent rates the stimulus persons all as "+ 1" or "-1" (the two middling scores) the respondent would purportedly be very simple in his cognitive style, but this is absurd: such responses indicate perceptions of many "greys" rather than "blacks and whites." The meaning of the correlation could then be the opposite to that claimed"

Had Van Hiel paid more attention to the way he measured things, he might have got more significant results.


Ray, J.J. (1984). Cognitive styles and authoritarianism: A comment on Rigby & Rump. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 283-284.

Van Hiel, A. & Mervielde, I. (2003) The need for closure and the spontaneous use of complex and simple cognitive structures. Journal of Social Psychology, 143 (5), 559-568.


Some 2007 research by ">Haidt would seem to be of considerable interest in connection with the above. Haidt argues that the basis of morality is instinctive but that conservatives display greater cognitive complexity in dealing with moral questions. Given the frequent Leftist assertion that "there is no such thing as right and wrong", that is not inherently surprising. Although they often use moral talk in an attempt to influence others, Leftists would seem, on their own admission, to have no serious interest in or committment to morality of any kind. That does make the invariable brutalities of Communist regimes rather understandable.

Part of a summary of Haidt's review:

"Haidt argues that human morality is a cultural construction built on top of -- and constrained by -- a small set of evolved psychological systems. He presents evidence that political liberals rely primarily on two of these systems, involving emotional sensitivities to harm and fairness. Conservatives, however, construct their moral understandings on those two systems plus three others, which involve emotional sensitivities to in-group boundaries, authority and spiritual purity."