Conservatism and Authoritarianism: A Rejoinder

Preface by Washington’s Blog:  Washington’s Blog is a non-partisan site.  

We believe that the war between liberals and conservatives is a false divide-and-conquer dog-and-pony show created by the powers that be to keep the American people divided and distracted. See this, thisthis, this, this, this, this, this, this, this and this. And see number 1.

Moreover, we believe that both mainstream parties are bankrupt of ethics – and ignoring what people want – and so we think that cheerleading for Democrats-versus-Republicans is counter-productive.

We also know highly ethical liberals and highy ethical conservatives … and scum from both sides of the spectrum.

Eric Zuesse is a very good researcher and writer, and frequent poster at Washington’s Blog.   Mr. Zuesse wrote a piece calling out Dr. John Ray … and conservatives in general.

Dr. Ray asked if he could respond.  Below is his response.

We are not taking sides in this debate. After all, we believe that “all conservatives are …” or “all liberals are …” pieces are counter-productive, and that building bridges to fight corruption is much more useful.

It is sometimes said of Vivaldi that he did not write 232 concertos. He wrote the same concerto 232 times. Perhaps we are all a bit like that. Eric Zuesse certainly his. His recent effusion on the evils of conservatives is much like the one he wrote last year which I responded to at that time. His recent offering is however rather more derogatory about me so I thought I should say something again. I will however try not to fall into the Vivaldi trap. I will be concentrating on just one point on this occasion. People can read my earlier reply here

Zuesse is primarily pushing the old 1950s wheelbarrow set in motion by famed Marxist theoretician Theodor Adorno (born Theodor Wiesengrund). Adorno and his friends wrote at great length in an effort to prove that conservatives were “authoritarian”. Their work was however much criticized on methodological grounds from the get-go. Their conclusions were popular, however, and remain so to some extent.

I subsequently spent 20 years doing survey research into various aspects of the Adnorno theory, resulting in over 200 published academic journal articles. So I may be able to point to some things Zuesse has missed. Zuesse appears to have no background in psychological research.

Zuesse’s lodestar seems to be the semi-revival of the Adorno theory by Robert Altemeyer so I will confine my comments on this occasion to Altemeyer’s claims.

A major problem with Altemeyer’s work is revealed when we find that his RWA measuring instrument identifies the Communists of the old Soviet Union as right-wing. But if they are right-wing who is left wing? His confusion arises from his apparent definition of conservatism as “opposed to change”. That definition is however politically naive and quite absurd. Conservatives from Burke onward have never been opposed to change as such but rather opposed to changes desired and enacted by Leftists.

Undoubted conservatives such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were certainly great agents of change — so much so that they shifted the whole Overton window Rightwards. In their advocacy of a carbon price even global warmers now use market-oriented thinking.

The current Left/Right polarity is between conservatives who want less government control and Leftists who want more of that. Altemeyer seems to be quite unaware of that so his work has no current political relevance.

In detail: The decline and fall of Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe enabled use of his RWA scale there. Studies in the East such as those by Altemeyer & Kamenshikov (1991), McFarland, Ageyev and Abalakina-Paap (1992) and Hamilton, Sanders & McKearney (1995) showed that high RWA scores were associated with support for Communism!! So an alleged “Rightist” scale was found to be a measure of Leftism! If you took it at face-value, it showed Communists were Rightists! But black might as well be white.

After that, Altemeyer more or less gave up his original claim and engaged in a bit of historical revisionism. He said (Altemeyer, 1996, p. 218) that when he “began talking about right-wing authoritarianism, I was (brazenly) inventing a new sense, a social psychological sense that denotes submission to the perceived established authorities in one’s life”. It is true that he did originally define what he was measuring in something like that way (in detail, he defined it as a combination of three elements: submissiveness to established authority, adherence to social conventions and general aggressiveness) but what was new, unusual or “brazen” about such a conceptualization defies imagination. The concept of submission to established authority was, for instance, part of the old Adorno et al (1950) work. What WAS brazen was Altemeyer’s claim that what he was measuring was characteristic of the political Right. But it is precisely the “Right-wing” claim that he now seems to have dropped and the RWA scale is now said to measure simply submission to authority. A definition of conservatism that embraces communists would certainly be seen as terminally perverse to any modern-day Western conservative.

So Zuesse has hitched his wagon to a fallen star. Altemeyer’s work tells us nothing about actual conservatism. See:

Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper.

Altemeyer, R. (1996). The Authoritarian Specter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Altemeyer, R. & Kamenshikov, A. (1991) Impressions of American and Soviet behaviour: RWA changes in a mirror. South African J. Psychology 21, 255-260.

Hamilton, V. L., Sanders, J., & McKearney, S. J. (1995). Orientations toward authority in an authoritarian state: Moscow in 1990. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 21, 356-365

McFarland, S. G., Ageyev, V. S., & Abalakina-Paap, M. A. (1992). Authoritarianism in the former Soviet Union. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 1004-1010

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  • wunsacon

    >> The current Left/Right polarity is between conservatives who want less government control and Leftists who want more of that.

    Which “conservatives” are you referring to that want “less” government control? The war-starting imperialists (almost the entire Republican party and most of the Democratic party), religious
    zealots (almost the entire Republican party), the oligarchs who own the government and bend it to their business interests (as that socialist Adam Smith observed), or the mostly self-identified Republicans employed in “give us bailouts — that’s all the control we want” finance industry or the all-intrusive MIC?

    If you exclude all of those groups, are the tiny remainder the “conservatives” of which you speak? I’m not sure I’ve met any.

    • Sumner_Vengeance


  • diogenes

    The editorial introduction gets it right. We need to find common ground, not exacerbate divisions. Worst of all, this sort of partisan-theoretical tale-chasing distracts from practical action.

    Ray and Zuesse are both confused by their own ideological maps and terms. The studies show Soviet “Marxists” as “authoritarian”. Surprise surprise! Left & Right, Conservative & Liberal are matters of polticial and ideological definition and subject to, based on contentious disputes. There are authoritarians in all parties — and the more partisan the more authoritarian.

    “Conservatives” who “want less government” want, in effect, to turn power over to the oligarchs of finance — essentially, to abandon the constitutional democratic republic to private rule. All of wunsacon’s questions (below) are extremely pertinent. But it would serve our purposes instead of diverting and thwarting them to instead turn our ingenuity to evolving tactics of practical democratic action OUTSIDE and AROUND parties and ideological contention, focusing them direct solutions to the common welfare of the 99% or the 90%, and set about persuading enough of our neighbors to make it happen. THIS is what we need to envision and pursue. And stop wasting time throwing ideological feces at each other like caged monkeys. The cage is real. Let’s dissolve it and recreate our world in common with our general welfare in mind.

    • cettel

      This is Zuesse, and I am not “confused by [my] own ideological maps and terms.” If only you were to have read any of the many articles that I referred to, each one described its definitions and methodology; and, in all cases, the empirical findings indicated what my article summarized it to have found. None of the “ideological maps and terms” came from me.

      • diogenes

        Meta, Zuesse, meta. Any map that sees a contradiction between describing Soviet Marxists as “authoritarian” and as “left” OR “right” is confused about what it is and isn’t measuring. This particular confusion dates back to about 1920, and your sources still haven’t escaped it. Take off your blinders and see what the world looks like in color instead of black-and-white. Or don’t. Instead, stir up more division, more hate. Your choice.

    • Sumner_Vengeance

      “”Conservatives” — so called, according to some — who “want less government” want, in effect, in the real world, to turn power over to the oligarchy of finance — ”

      No we don’t. We no more want America run by wall street (who donate more to the DNC than the RNC, look it up on than by prog academic marxist scum telling us to let them have their transexual “heros” teach sex ed to our children in the afternoon before they take them to the mosque for “comparative religion” day.

      The difference is we feel comfortable knowing we can boycott / destroy any capitalists ruining America easier than we can battling some state run crony capitalist progressive wonderland.

      In the former we beat them in the marketplace of ideas. In the latter they force us to shoot the prog holes when they use govt to tell us what we can read, publish, or how we express our Judeo-Christian culture.

      Get your shit together as to the facts, or be left gasping in the gutter…, we aren’t letting Zuesse, Obama, Hillary, Jeb, Warren or Sanders destroy this country much longer.

      • I see this is quite an old comment, but it is still remarkable in how it shows modern conservatism as an enraged and barely coherent string of talking points.

    • Army of Addicts

      I thought the idea of these studies established that there really is no common ground. Otherwise, we surely would have found it by now.

  • nomadfiles

    It’s a false divide-and-conquer dog-and-pony show all right. But that’s mainly because of the capitulation of Democrats to a Republican agenda. They have deserted their fundamental principals: something along the lines of “to alleviate social ills and to protect civil liberties and individual and human rights”. They have in effect become a conservative party and are only “liberal” in conparison to an ultra-conservative (batshit crazy) Republican party. That whole divide and distract show is taking place at the conservative end of the spectrum, with those who are truly liberal in their outlook having virtually no voice at all. What the Democrats represent is faux-opposition designed to enable a Republican agenda.

    • diogenes

      “Capitulation of Democrats to Republicans” is sheer delusion or deception, take your pick. It will not sustain confrontation with the briefest examination of the historical record. Serious adult history demonstrates otherwise, with documentary fact. The fake-historical political accounts that say otherwise, party histories and partisan propaganda, are EASY to debunk when we pay the FACTS serious, honest ADULT attention. Or we can tell more Santa Claus stories: “Once upon a time the Democrats capitulated to the Republicans.” Santa Claus if for Children. The American Res Publica is a concern to adults. We need to stop kidding ourselves, and lying to ourselves.

      • nomadfiles

        way to miss the point.

        • VainSaints

          The problem here is that Liberals simply wish to continue to call everything evil “Conservative” or “Right Wing”. This in part explains Altmeyer’s bizarre political revisionism, and it also explains the intransigence of the narrative of Democrats “capitulating” to the Right. They cannot allow themselves to ascribe any evil to Liberalism or to the Left. All evil has to be externalized to the other.

          Obviously this problem also exists in the other direction. Some people have such a precariousness sense of identity that they have to externalize all conflict. There must exist an “Us” with white hats and a “Them” with black hats. And when it is impossible to deny the “We” did something wrong, it has to be because some of “Us” capitulalted to “Them”.

          • nomadfiles

            “The problem here is that Liberals simply wish to continue to call everything evil “Conservative” or “Right Wing”.”
            I think they have a point. The problem is that they don’t acknowledge their own complicity in moving the Overton window inexorably rightward. Because, as the infantile respondent above refuses to acknowledge, there has been a definite rightward trend in the politics of this nation ever since the Reagan revolution.

          • VainSaints

            This also depends on perspective. The only “rightward” trend has been a total capitulation to corporate dominance in the economy. But this represents the *corporate right” and it also represents the corporate left (i.e. neoliberals and neoconservatives). There is also a populist right that has been pushed to the side by the neoconservatives, just as there is a populist left that has been pushed to the side by the neoliberals.

            The ideas of the populist right that have not advanced. The government controls more education and more of medical care, not less. In the Carter years, homosexual marriage would have been a non-starter, there were no “diversity training” managers, the conditions for small business owners are more difficult. Government budgets and deficits are much higher. All of these represent rebukes of the populist right.

            Liberals falsely equate the right with the neoconservatives, and the religious right, and while that is accurate in Washington and in the media, it does not represent the ideas of any real philosophical or popular right. It represents only what has been defined as the right by political, corporate, and media elites, in the same way as the term “Liberal” has been hijacked by elite neoliberals.

            There are disagreements between the real right and the real left (i.e. the philosophically coherent versions, not the media B.S. versions) but those pale in comparison to the common ground that unites the real left and right with the corporate fascists that dominate *both* parties.

            And note that I do think that there are real differences between the parties, and that the real fascists are more entrenched amongst the Republicans than the Democrats, but the Democrats are sufficiently controlled by the fascist contingent that they are beyond hope as well.

          • nomadfiles

            “Democrats are sufficiently controlled by the fascist contingent”
            At least we can agree on that. And to me “fascist” means far right.

          • VainSaints

            There exists strong Libertarian elements on the Right that are strongly anti-fascist and authoritarian elements on the Left that have fascist leanings. The Neoconservatives are fascists, in that they promote a government that is comprehensively integrated into Big Business and employ a militaristic nationalism in service of this agenda. Neoliberals are fascists in the same sense and for the same reasons. They are nearly identical to each other.

            The major point is the obsolescence of Left and Right as coherent, meaningful, and relevant terms of political discourse.

            The Left and Right 100 years ago represented a split that took place within post-Enlightenment liberalism. The right had pro-market views and the left turned against the market in favor of government controls. Both the Left and Right in the 19-teens, however, were violently racist. (Woodrow Wilson played Birth of a Nation in his inauguration). The Progressives were far keener than the American right for forced sterilization laws. They saw such laws as exemplifying the role of government in the scientific management of society. The American right at this time was mostly libertarian, and they would have seen this as gross governmental overreach.

            You might ask, what of the European Right? Western Europe did not have a strong tradition of anti-government populism informing their right. Neither the Left nor the Right in Europe would hesitate to use the government to achieve broad social goals. The difference was that the Right would integrate the government into markets and were not hostile to Big Business, whereas the Left were hostile to big business and wanted government to replace markets. It makes sense, in retrospect, that both the far Left and far Right in Europe (and later in China) descended into Totalitarian Hellholes. Neither recognized any natural limit of government power, nor did they recognize any claim of the individual over the collective.

            There were always fascist elements in the American Right, but they were the corporate titans influenced by European social theories. The point is that there is no essence to Left or Right. It is thoroughly clouded in contingency and dependent on culture and context, and it would follow that since there is no essential content to these terms, there is no essential enmity dividing them.

          • nomadfiles

            “there is no essence to Left or Right”
            I’ve heard this before, and I am simply not buying it. It’s like saying there is no up or down and no hot and cold. It has no practical value where the rubber meets the road, where a fascist police state is being erected all around us. One thing I notice is that the people who say there is no difference between right and left are themselves right wing or right leaning. It’s just a further attempt to disarm the left. Or what’s left of the left.

          • VainSaints

            Whatever essence you believe exists of Left and Right exist mainly in *your definition* of what constitutes Left and Right. But this is not what actually constitutes Left and Right in their historical manifestations.

            Real people on the Left and Right do not think as you would like them to think.

            As I said, the Progressives, who counted themselves on the center-left, were far more enthusiastic about eugenics in the 1930s than the American Right, save a fascist wing of the Right that was the domain of elites and had no widespread popularity and had nothing to do with the mainstream American Right at the time.

            Similarly, there are many Democratic leaning voters who have highly authoritarian views on police and conservative views on social issues, There is no internal logic connecting government welfare policy to social progressivism. Similarly, there is no connection between small-government ideology and social conservatism. These are distinct and unrelated systems of opinion that have come together in the modern Left and Right by pure historical contingency.

            This is a far cry from hot and cold and up and down, which are natural antinomies.

          • VainSaints

            In other words, when you say “To me, fascist means far right,” the key words in this statement are “*to me*.”

            Most people who would place themselves on the Right have no fascist inclinations whatever, and there is no purpose in pretending that these two strands of opinion (along with several others) that are called “Right” in various contexts are actually the same thing, simply because they are labeled the same way by people courting their votes. They are in fact divergent bodies of thought and feeling that have little to nothing in common and are forced together via manipulative political rhetoric.

  • jadan

    Among small numbers of people, in a tribal group for example, government as we know it is non-existent. The larger a group becomes, from tribal groupings to national groupings, the more government as we know it becomes necessary. “Necessary” is the key word. There is no ideological choice involved. The government established by the Constitution was created to form a “more perfect union”. That’s the positive spin. “To prevent chaos and internecine strife” is a phrasing from the dark side equally applicable. The larger the group of humans, the more prominent is the role of government. Government is not an ideological, right or left proposition. It is a practical necessity, and the so-called conservatives who want to reduce government to the size that can be drowned in a bath tub are lunatics, the architects of chaos, or corporate fascism, otherwise called “privatization”. The size of a population determines the size of a government. In an overpopulated world, such as ours, intrusive government is the price we pay for our failure to control our numbers.

    • diogenes

      A look at the evidence suggests that your last sentence needs restatement in light of the facts, which suggest that the size and intrusiveness of government is strongly influenced by the population of the specific nation, and that government reflecting popular will and the interests of the “general welfare” is more likely to be found in smaller states like Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Slovenia, Switzerland, perhaps Costa Rica (?), and so on. There are of course exceptions and wide variety. All these examples and others show that government “intrusiveness” is not inevitable — though naturally its proponents work hard to convince us otherwise.

      • jadan

        The point is rarely made that political stability and individual liberty are determined by the size of a nation’s population. There is a limit in an overpopulated society beyond which individual liberty and political stability cannot co-exist. China is an example of what happens when this limit is passed. In this situation, right and left have no meaning. The distinction between collective and individual rights disappears. Survival is the controlling factor. Democracy as we understand it cannot exist in this context.

        • diogenes

          The longer the feedback loop the more noise on the line, the weaker the signal, the poorer the feedback. That’s a virtue of local government, local ownership, local control. American democracy has deteriorated in direct proportion as ownership and control of the economy has been centralized and operated by and from Wall Street.

          • jadan

            Jefferson would strongly agree!

          • diogenes

            Yes, that’s why the only thing schoolchildren hear about him today, if they here anything at all, is that he had children by one of his slaves. And the Adams Family? Well, we know about them, thanks to that hotbed of indigenous American patriotic culture, Hollywood.

  • June 27, 2014 Endgame response to Karl Rove/1% ‘We’re an Empire creating our own reality for you to study’: Study’s over – you’re under arrest by Carl Herman

    Three weeks before W. Bush’s election for a second term in 2004, his Senior Advisor and Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, chided Pulitzer-winning journalist, Ron Suskind. Rove said: Guys like [Suskind] were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.”

    Mar 19, 2015 Untold History of the United States: Bush, Obama and the age of terror

    Bush, Obama and the Age of Terror is the concluding episode of Oliver Stone’s brilliant 10-part documentary: The Untold History of the United States.

    • Carl_Herman

      Thank you, molon labe. Yes, I suggest we should focus on our mutual commitments as an endgame: peace, unleashing monetary and banking reforms for prosperity rather than Orwellian “debt supply”, and media truth for honest consideration of our most important topics.

      Love can and should bring us together in this work.

      Creating allies is wise and apparently required for humanity to finally graduate for Earth to be the awesome planet for all inhabitants that we know is possible right now.

      • Thank you, for your excellent article that I had stored and attached here with this video that just made a perfect match in my mind anyway. Keep up your great work if nobody has told you that lately! I love learning and sharing confirmed articles like I find here at Washington’s Blog!

    • Sumner_Vengeance

      “Oliver Stone’s brilliant ”

      -bye bye…

  • J_Bookly

    I agree with Mr. Washington (?) that right vs left is mostly divide-and-conquer. The only way self-government can still work is when “liberals” and “conservatives” both write their elected representatives and say “no to the TPP” (a current example of an issue where many people on both sides of the mythic center aisle dislike the same thing). When both groups agree on something, and both groups express their views, then enough people can make enough noise that a positive outcome is possible. Otherwise “we the people” don’t count; only the lobbyists and donors count. I’m not saying there aren’t differences; I just think that working together whenever possible is far more important. (Also, it doesn’t matter if you oppose the TPP for one set of reasons and I oppose it for another set of reasons; the important thing is that we both write our congressmen to urge him to vote against it.)

    • diogenes

      There is no point in writing or voting for “our” (so-called) “elected” (so-called) “representatives” (so-called). They are all already wholly owned by the 0.1% and many of them are subject to the control of blackmail (as we are now learning about the former Speaker of the House). Nearly every last one of them is compromised, corrupt, a liar, a betrayer, a traitor to the preamble of our Constitution — or they wouldn’t be where they are. We need to adopt and pursue tactics to remove them and replace them with representatives who will forward a progressive program — specific planks — that we determine, and replace them if they fail, until change comes. If we do it right, we can make it happen within three to five cycles of congressional elections. It’s Congress we need to focus on, district by district, and on local and state legislators. In the big “democracy” hoax the presidency is the Big Distraction. If Obama doesn’t teach us that, what will?

  • Avinash Dwivedi

    You really gave a nice thought on the peoples Movement in India.

    Thanks for the sharing a sensationalism thought.
    Peoples Movement of India

  • There’s one single thing that is half our taxes: the military. And conservatives never want to cut the military.

    • There is only one problem with your statement Dan, you cannot prove a single word!

      Jeremy Scahill: The One Party State, The War Party Mar 2, 2014

      Is the United States of America an Oligarchy? During the 2014 ISFLC, Jeremy Scahill speaks on the fact that in today’s world behemoth corporations are able to buy off politicians and pull the strings to impact legislature. Washington, D.C. is a town that operates by campaign contributions and legal bribery in the form of campaign finance.

    • US history – “How Jimmy Carter I Started the Mujahideen” – Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor 1977-1981 (Jan.1998)

      “Q: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct? Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahideen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.

    • Sumner_Vengeance

      You’re a liar or a moron.

      And what would you do with $ saved cutting our military? Pay for your free dope and sex change ops?

      • Libertymike

        So, that which is set forth in Wikipedia is gospel?

        Nevertheless, even within the Wikipedia cite, you will note that military spending does eat up over half of discretionary spending.
        The problem, of course, is that military spending must, necessarily include all money allocated to the surveillance state, including (1) NSA, (2) Homeland Security, (3) CIA, (4) FBI, etc., all of the “off-budget” expenditures along with all of the destabilization and propaganda programs like USAID – never mind all of the “off-budget” outlays.
        In addition, all of the “soft” expenditures should be included in the universe of “defense” and military and national security spending such as pensions and health care costs of all the retired parasites.
        Why be a shill for the military? What proud, rugged individual would want to be a cog in Caesar’s empire? A loser.

        • Sumner_Vengeance

          So you dont like wiki but you do like wiki… HE Y STFU you would leave us defenseless, you jihadi lover.

  • A.Alexander

    Leftists who created the totalitarian and authoritarian regimes impudently accuse conservatives in the same aimes. Leftist wrongly blame conservatives for the authoritarian right-wing leaders,who declare themselves “conservative” before the leftist totalitarian thread as in Chile.