Authoritarian followers does almost all of the evil deeds in authoritarian systems, and they find it easier to abuse, bully, harass, torture, and exterminate their victims than most people do. So, while they often are pleasant, sociable and friendly, at least towards those they consider “one of us,” they have a lot of hostility inside against “one of them” that their authorities can unleash. So, what are the causes of their aggression?
Social Learning Theory
Aggression occurs after two switches are turned. First, some bad feeling, like anger or envy, stirs up hostility. But, that by itself won’t lead to aggression. An angry individual who wants to attack someone may anticipate getting punished. Or, s/he may have moral restraints. So, s/he has to somehow overcome these restraints or set aside these inhibitions, and let the aggression erupt and flow.
What sort of unpleasant feelings are likely to be burning away inside high RWAs that create an urge to attack? Fear. They tend to believe that society is about to collapse from depravity and decadence. Chaos and anarchy will soon erupt. The End is Near. So they are more fearful than most people.
They may have inherited genes that incline them to fret and tremble, but we know that they were raised by their parents to be afraid of others: homosexuals, atheists, kidnappers, bullies, drunks, etc. For high RWAs, gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, euthanasia, etc, is not just immoral on religious grounds, but it is also one more sign that perversion is corrupting society. So did, in earlier times, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement and sex education.
What releases the aggressive impulse that comes from fear? What slides off the safety on the gun? Self-righteousness appears to release authoritarian aggression more than anything else. Most human beings think they are above average in ethics (theory) and morality (practice), but high RWAs generally think they are the best: they are the Holy Ones. Chronically frightened authoritarian followers are particularly likely to attack other people when they can find what they themselves think is a moral justification for their hostility.
Now, fear can increase submission as well as aggression. If people imagine that their country is undergoing an internal crisis, then RWA scale scores usually soar. Most people seem to become more right-wing authoritarian during crises. The only situation in which a crisis lowered RWA scores was a repressive government that assaulted nonviolent protestors (“the Gandhi trap”). Otherwise, when there’s trouble, people generally look to the authorities to fix things, and some authorities will gladly amass greater power in times of peril, whether they have any intention of fixing the problem or not.