The Authoritarian Personality

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search
The Authoritarian Personality
File:The Authoritarian Personality (first edition).jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, Nevitt Sanford
Published 1950
Publisher Harper & Brothers
Media type Print

The Authoritarian Personality is a 1950 sociology book by Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford, researchers working at the University of California, Berkeley, during and shortly after World War II.

The Authoritarian Personality "invented a set of criteria by which to define personality traits, ranked these traits and their intensity in any given person on what it called the 'F scale' (F for fascist)."[1] The personality type Adorno et al. identified can be defined by nine traits that were believed to cluster together as the result of childhood experiences. These traits include conventionalism, authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, anti-intellectualism, anti-intraception, superstition and stereotypy, power and "toughness", destructiveness and cynicism, projectivity, and exaggerated concerns over sex.[2][3]

Though strongly criticized for bias and methodology,[4][5] the book was highly influential in American social sciences, particularly in the first decade after its publication: “No volume published since the war in the field of social psychology has had a greater impact on the direction of the actual empirical work being carried on in the universities today.”[6]

Institutional context

The impetus[need quotation to verify] of The Authoritarian Personality was the Holocaust, the attempted genocidal extinction of European Jews by Adolf Hitler's National Socialist party. Adorno had been a member of the "Frankfurt School", a predominantly Jewish[7] group of philosophers and Marxist theorists who fled Germany when Hitler shut down their Institute for Social Research. Adorno et al. were thus motivated by a desire[citation needed] to identify and measure factors that were believed to contribute to antisemitic and fascist traits. The book was part of a "Studies in Prejudice" series sponsored by the American Jewish Committee's Department of Scientific Research.[8][9]

Sources and influences

The Authoritarian Personality was based in part on earlier Frankfurt School analyses undertaken in Germany, but with a few key changes. First, their Marxist and radical[need quotation to verify] roots were downplayed. For example, the earlier “authoritarian personality/revolutionary personality” axis was changed to an “authoritarian personality/democratic personality” axis in America. Thus, values and behaviors earlier associated with revolutionary Marxism were now associated with support for democracy.[10] Second, the book abandoned and/or modified traditional Marxist sociological and economic explanations for human behavior in favor of psychological explanations, earning scorn from more orthodox Marxists.[11][need quotation to verify]

Generally, Adorno et al. took an antipositivist position;[12] they did not believe their theories required external verification or falsification.[13][better source needed]


A central idea of The Authoritarian Personality is that authoritarianism is the result of a Freudian developmental model. Excessively harsh and punitive parenting was posited to cause children to feel immense anger towards their parents; yet fear of parental disapproval or punishment caused people to not directly confront their parents, but rather to identify with and idolize authority figures.[page needed] Moreover, the book suggested that authoritarianism was rooted in suppressed homosexuality, which was redirected into outward hostility towards the father, which was, in turn, suppressed for fear of being infantilized and castrated by the father.[14] This hypothesis was consistent with prevailing psychological theories of the time, and even though Frenkel-Brunswik reported some preliminary support, empirical data have generally not confirmed this prediction.[15][page needed][need quotation to verify] Authoritarianism was measured by the F-scale. The "F" was short for "pre-fascist personality." Another major hypothesis of the book is that the authoritarian syndrome is predisposed to right-wing ideology and therefore receptive to fascist governments.[page needed]

Authors and conflicts

Sanford and Levinson were both psychology professors at Berkeley. They did much of the preliminary work on ethnocentrism and statistical measurement. Frenkel-Brunswik examined personality variables and family background with a series of interview studies. Adorno provided a political and sociological perspective to the book. Although Adorno's name heads the alphabetical list of authors, he arrived late to the project and made a relatively small contribution.[16][need quotation to verify] Adorno, in a 1947 letter to Horkheimer, said that his main contribution was the F-scale, which in the end was the "core of the whole thing."[17] An agreement among the authors held that each one was to sign the individual chapters to which he or she had contributed, and that all four were to sign the chapter on the F-scale;[17] Adorno was credited in 5 of the 23 chapters.

The initially planned title for the book was The Fascist Character and the Measurement of Fascist Trends, but as early as 1947 Adorno feared that the assistants at Berkeley would try to sanitize it to a more innocuous title like Character and Prejudice. The final title was the result of a compromise.[17]


The Authoritarian Personality inspired extensive research in psychology, sociology, and political science during the 1950s and early 1960s on the relation between personality traits, behavior, and political beliefs. The Authoritarian Personality has often provoked polarized responses: “The Berkeley study of authoritarian personality does not leave many people indifferent.”[18]

The study "has been subjected to considerable criticism"[19] since the 1950s, particularly for various methodological flaws, including sample bias and poor psychometric techniques.[20][page needed][need quotation to verify]

In 1973, Gaensslen et al.[21] found that, contrary to predictions by Adorno et al.,[need quotation to verify] rigidity/dogmatism is not intrinsically maladaptive; e.g., rigidity can be associated with discipline and productivity.[need quotation to verify]

In 1980, sociologist J.J. Ray[22] argued that the project of The Authoritarian Personality was seriously flawed[need quotation to verify] on several points: for not asking questions regarding libertarian politics (which according to Ray are typically more anti-authoritarian than right- or left-wing politics[need quotation to verify]); for failing to demonstrate that authoritarian/right-wing beliefs are correlated with psychopathology; and, most importantly, for failing to demonstrate that authoritarian beliefs are associated with authoritarian behavior. In 1993, over a decade later, the latter point was also criticized by Billings, et al.[23][better source needed]

The book concludes that right-wing, authoritarian governments produce hostility towards racial, religious or ethnic minorities. Psychologist Bob Altemeyer argued against that conclusion, saying that Fascist Italy was not characterized by antisemitism, and that Jews occupied high positions in Mussolini’s government until pressure from Hitler disenfranchised these Jews.[24]

Rubenstein’s research in Israel revealed that Orthodox Jews scored higher on right wing politics and authoritarianism as traits than Reform Jews, and that both groups scored higher than Secular Jews. However, it cannot be said that there is no relationship between traits of Right-Wing Authoritarianis and antisemitism. In fact, Adorno's nine traits of the "F scale" are rather general and have been thought to identify fascist as well as anti-Semitic individual attributes. The fact that Rubenstein himself affirms that "the results confirm the validity of the RWA" represents a particularly interesting outcome: Orthodox and Reform Jews in Israel are classified closer to the fascist and anti-Semitic traits, as thought in 1950 by Adorno et. al., compared to Secular Jews in Israel.[25]

Some observers have criticized what they saw as a strongly politicized agenda to The Authoritarian Personality. Social critic Christopher Lasch[26] argued that by equating mental health with left-wing politics and associating right-wing politics with an invented “authoritarian” pathology, the book's goal was to eliminate antisemitism by “subjecting the American people to what amounted to collective psychotherapy—by treating them as inmates of an insane asylum.” The Authoritarian Personality remains widely cited in the social sciences and continues to inspire research interest today.[27]

See also

Notes and references

  1. Codevilla, Angelo (2010-07-16) America's Ruling Class, The American Spectator
  2. Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, R. N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper and Row (pp. 228).[need quotation to verify]
  3. Adorno and the political By Espen Hammer p.62
  4. Mangus A. R. (1954). "Studies In The Scope And Method Of "The Authoritarian Personality" (Book)". Rural Sociology. 19 (2): 198–200.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Wolfe Alan (2005). "'The Authoritarian Personality' Revisited". Chronicle Of Higher Education. 52 (7): B12–B13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Glazer, Nathan. (1954). "New light on The Authoritarian Personality: A survey of recent research and criticism." Commentary 17 (March), pp. 289–297.
  7. Herbert Marcuse, Franz Leopold Neumann, Leo Löwenthal, Max Horkheimer
  8. Horkheimer, Max, Flowerman, Samuel H (1950). Foreword to Studies in Prejudice in "The Authoritarian Personality". Norton Library. pp. v–vi.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. American Jewish Committee News, 15 March 1950.
  10. Jay, Martin (1973). The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research 1923-1950. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-435-82476-7, p. 273
  11. Jay 1973, 227.
  12. Adorno stated: "[The TAP questionnaire] was produced in a manner which does not correspond at all to the usual image of positivism in social science…" quoted in Wiggershaus, R. (1994). The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance, translated by M. Robertson. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p. 373.
  13. "[W]e never regarded the theory simply as a set of hypotheses but as in some sense standing on its own feet, and therefore did not intend to prove or disprove the theory through our findings but only to derive from it concrete questions for investigation, which must then be judged on their own merit and demonstrate certain prevalent socio-psychological structures" Adorno, T. W. (1969). "Scientific Experiences of a European Scholar in America" In The Intellectual Migration: Europe and America, 1930–1960, eds. D. Fleming & B. Bailyn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press., p. 363.
  14. "The forbidden action which is converted into aggression is generally homosexual in nature. Through fear of castration, obedience to the father is taken to the extreme of an anticipation of castration in conscious emotional approximation to the nature of a small girl, and actual hatred to the father is suppressed" Adorno, T. W., E. Frenkel-Brunswik, D. J. Levinson, & R. N. Sanford. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality . Publication No. 3 of the American Jewish Committee Social Studies Series. New York: Harper & Brothers., p. 192.
  15. Altemeyer, B. (1988). Enemies of freedom: Understanding right-wing authoritarianism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Stone, W. F., Lederer, G., and Christie, R. (1993). Introduction: Strength and weakness. In Stone, W. F., Lederer, G., and Christie, R. (Eds.). Strength and weakness: The authoritarian personality today. New York: Springer-Verlag.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Wiggershaus, Rolf (1995) The Frankfurt School: Its History, Theories, and Political Significance, p.411
  18. Brown, R. (1965). Social Psychology. London: Collier-Macmillan, p. 479.
  19. Don Stewart and Thomas Hoult (1959). "A Social-Psychological Theory of the Authoritarian Personality". The American Journal of Sociology Vol. 65, No. 3 (Nov., 1959), pp. 274-279.
  20. Christie, Richard & Jahoda, Marie (eds.) (1954). Studies in the scope and method of "The Authoritarian Personality". Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Gaensslen H., May F., Woelpert F. (1973). "Relation Between Dogmatism and Anxiety". Psychological Reports. 33: 955–58. doi:10.2466/pr0.1973.33.3.955.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Ray, J.J. (1980). "Libertarians and the Authoritarian Personality". The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. IV, No. 1, Winter 1980, pp. 39-43.
  23. Billings S. W., Guastello S. J., Reike M. L. (1993). "A comparative assessment of the construct validity of three authoritarianism measures". Journal of Research in Personality. 27: 328–348. doi:10.1006/jrpe.1993.1023.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Altemeyer, B. (1981). Right-Wing Authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press., p. 28.
  25. Rubenstein G (1996). "Two peoples in one land: A validation study of Altemeyer's Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale in the Palestinian and Jewish Societies in Israel". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 27: 216–230. doi:10.1177/0022022196272005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Lasch, Christopher (1991). The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics. New York: W. W. Norton, p. 453.
  27. "Political conservatism as motivated social cognition", authors John T. Jost, Jack Glaser, Arie W. Kruglanski and Frank J. Sulloway, journal title "Psychological Bulletin", 2003, Vol. 129, No. 3, pp. 339-375

Further reading

  • Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson and Nevitt Sanford. The Authoritarian Personality, Studies in Prejudice Series, Volume 1. New York: Harper & Row, 1950. W. W. Norton & Company paperback reprint edition (1993) ISBN 0-393-31112-0.
  • Altemeyer, Bob (2007). "The Authoritarians". Retrieved 13 October 2007.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Christie, Richard & Jahoda, Marie (eds.) (1954). Studies in the scope and method of "The Authoritarian Personality". Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Jost, John T.; Glaser, Jack; Kruglanski, Arie W.; Sulloway, Frank J. (2003). "Political conservatism as motivated social cognition". Psychological Bulletin. 129 (3): 339–375. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.3.339. PMID 12784934.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Martin, John Levi (2001). "The Authoritarian Personality, 50 Years Later: What Questions Are There for Political Psychology?". Political Psychology. 22 (1): 1–26. doi:10.1111/0162-895X.00223.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • McClosky, Herbert; Chong, Dennis (1985). "Similarities and Differences between Left-Wing and Right-Wing Radicals". British Journal of Political Science. 15 (3): 329–363. doi:10.1017/S0007123400004221.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Shils, Edward (1954). "Authoritarianism: "Right" and "Left"". In Christie, Richard & Jahoda, Marie (eds.) (ed.). Studies in the scope and method of "The Authoritarian personality". Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.CS1 maint: multiple names: editors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: editors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Altemeyer, Bob (1988). Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right-Wing Authoritarianism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Altemeyer, Bob (1997). The Authoritarian Specter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>