Tuesday, September 04, 2007

More Important Findings about Authoritarianism and Who Rules America

I have ordered but not yet received John Dean's book Conservatives Without Conscience. This is an important book because while researching it Dean went through the social science literature and discovered Bob Altemeyer's 40 year body of work on authoritarianism. He integrated these social science findings into his book and brought renewed and much deserved attention to Altemeyer's work. As a psychologist myself I have heard often of how we are supposed to be involved in a longer term program of research in order to make a significant scientific contribution but this admonition is usually more observed in the breach than it is followed. Altemeyer is the model of long term programmatic research! He has been at it for 40 years and has accumulated a wealth of findings.

Altemeyer has researched mainly authoritarian followers or what he calls people who score high on his Right Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) Scale. In the 1990s a Swedish psychologist Jim Sidanius developed a measure of Social Dominance Orientation (SDO). He has mainly reported on this in professional journals but has published a book as well called Social Dominance: An Intergroup Theory of Social Hierarchy and Oppression. Persons high on SDO want to dominate others socially and are against increased equality. Research has shown that persons who score high on RWA and others who score high on SDO are each relatively highly prejudiced against minorities.

Since the RWA scale and the SDO scale do not correlate very highly with one another they explain different sources of prejudice. Altemeyer wondered how many persons might get both high RWA score and high SDO scores and it turns out that about 8% of his sample are "Double Highs", this minority scores highly on both right-wing authoritarianism and social dominance. Both Altemeyer and John Dean have drawn attention to these Double Highs as persons who might rise to leadership in the American Right. I suspect Dean identifies Dick Cheney as a double high.

RWAs believe in submission to their perceived authorities, are dogmatic followers of the conventions endorsed by these authorities, and are more willing to advocate and commit aggression to suppress dissidents and deviants. SDOs, on the other hand, are less ideological and they seek power in a more cynical fashion. Double Highs can appeal to the RWA followers for support because they hold enough of their views and are willing to do what is necessary to achieve socio-political power. So Double Highs would likely include George W. Bush who flaunts his born again Christian credentials to gain votes and, with the help of the ultimate Machiavellian, Karl Rove, is frequently willing to do whatever is necessary to defeat his opponents and gain political power.

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