Authoritarian followers have personalities featuring:
1) high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society
2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities
3) a high level of conventionalism
Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, these followers are called right-wing authoritarians. People who submit to the established authorities to extraordinary degrees often turn out to be political conservatives, but they are not necessarily right-wingers in the political sense. Someone who lived in a country ruled by Communists and who ardently supported the Communist Party would be a psychological right-wing authoritarian and a political left-winger.
There are left-wing authoritarian followers as well, who support a revolutionary leader who wants to overthrow the establishment. But here we speak about right-wing authoritarian followers, as identified with the RWA scale: we ask people a lot of questions, and they indicate the degree to which they agree with the statements. People who score high on this scale usually agree strongly that:
- “The established authorities generally turn out to be right about things, while the radicals and protestors are usually just ‘loud mouths’ showing off their ignorance.”
- “What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush evil, and take us back to our true path.”
- “God’s laws about abortion, pornography and marriage must be strictly followed before it is too late, and those who break them must be strongly punished.”
And they disagree strongly with the following statements:
- “Our country needs free thinkers who have the courage to defy traditional ways, even if this upsets many people.”
- “Everyone should have their own lifestyle, religious beliefs, and sexual preferences, even if it makes them different from everyone else.”
- “Homosexuals and feminists should be praised for being brave enough to defy traditional family values.”
Everybody submits to authority to some degree, but some people submit to authority even when it is dishonest, corrupt, unfair and evil. Authoritarian followers are more likely than most people to submit to corrupt authorities in their lives: to trust them when there is little reason to do so and to hold them blameless when they do something wrong. If you give them moral dilemmas (e.g. should one steal an absurdly expensive drug to save a life?) they’re more likely to say, “The law is the law and must be obeyed” than most people are. But they blissfully tolerate many illegal government actions, such as:
- police burglary of a newspaper office to get confidential information
- drug raids carried out without search warrants because judges wouldn’t give them
- denial of right to assemble to peacefully protest government actions
Authoritarian followers have a “Daddy and mommy know best” attitude toward authorities. They do not see laws as standards that apply to all – authorities are above the law, and can decide which laws apply to them and which do not. But, what’s the point of having laws protecting us if the law enforcers can decide to ignore them whenever they wish, and then get away with it?
By conventionalism is not just meant following the norms and customs one likes, but believing that everybody should have to follow the norms and customs that your authorities have decreed. Religious authoritarians get a lot of their morals from religious scripture and religious authorities, and they tend to belong to fundamentalist denominations that make it crystal clear what is right and what is wrong.
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