Authoritarian FAQ

4 views
Skip to first unread message

Marci Deleon

unread,
Mar 29, 2007, 12:30:17 AM3/29/07
to theautho...@googlegroups.com
Dr. Bob, may I suggest that you may want to start some sort of FAQ?  There's a lot of ideas in your books that, if taken of the very face value, confuse the heck out of people.

Tom, I'm not picking on you because I hate you or anything, it's just that in the short two weeks I've been on this listserv and finished the book, I've seen this question pop up here and in other spots.

On 3/28/07, tom w <twe...@hotmail.com> wrote:
I do have one remark. Many of the questions on the RWA seem to
identify right-wing attitudes like religious fundamentalism. Therefore
it's unsurprising that ring-wingers will score higher on it. If it
were a test of authoritarianism in general (without regard to, say,
either religious fundamentalism or Marxism) then the scores could be
different.


From _The Authoritarians_, Chapter 1, page 9:

"Psychologically [the right-wing authoritarian -MD] followers have _personalities_ featuring:
1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society;
2)high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3) a high level of conventionalism."

That there is the definition of a RWA personality.  There is no mention of politics, religion, class, creed, or what have you.  A Stalinist who believes in the Soviet Communist party as the status quo can have an RWA personality.  A Christianist who adheres to Dominionist theology and who sees themselves as a restorer of traditional values can have an RWA personality. 

To have a Left-Wing Authoritarian Personality, one must have 1, 2, and 3 _against_ the status quo.  The Marxist-Leninists in Russia who believed in their heart of hearts that the ends justified the means in overthrowing the status quo?  LWAs.  But the Stalinists who came after them?  RWAs, because they were motivated in _keeping_ the status quo.  (For more, there's _The Authoritarians_, page 10, or Chapter 9 of _The Authoritarian Specter_.)

So why does the RWA scale seem so full of "right-wing attitudes like religious fundamentalism"?  For specific discussion about religious fundamentalism, please turn to _The Authoritarians_, Chapter 4, page 112.

"Since authoritarianism can _produce_ fundamentalism if one grows up submissively n a religiously conservative family, and (conversely), fundamentalism can _promote_ authoritarianism with its emphases on submission to religious authority, dislike of out-groups, sticking to the straight and narrow, and so on, one immediately wonders which is the chicken and which is the egg.

"The evidence indicates that authoritarianism is more basic.  The RWA scale correlates _better_ than the Religious Fundamentalism scale does with acceptance of government injustices, hostility towards homosexuals, willingness to persecute whomever the government targets, and most other things.  (The big exception naturally comes when one raises distinctly religious issues.)  So the problem's not so much that some people are fundamentalists, but that fundamentalists so definitely tend to be authoritarian followers."

The RWA scale doesn't measure fundamentalism per se.  One can be a religious fundamentalist and not have an RWA personality.  However, the RWA scale measures the three definitions mentioned above, and fundamentalism of all stripes can feed into the RWA personality.  It happens that Dr. Bob has been working in the US and Canada, where it's a whole heck of a lot more likely to find people who use religious fundamentalism as a hook for their RWA behavior than other types.  He admits that the scale must be reworded for other countries and probably wouldn't work at all in its current form in Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

Remember too that definition 1 of an RWA personality is "a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society."  Who are the established, legitimate authorities in the modern USA?  Who are the rebellious, callow, shallow youths whose ideas have not stood the test of time and are thus doomed to failure, quite possibly taking all of society with them?

The entire RWA scale must be read in terms of the society which is being measured.  Who the status quo is is essential to reading the scale.

Should I quote further, or have I managed to explicate in less length than Dr. Bob did why Dominionists and Stalinists may both be classified as right-wing authoritarians?

-M. DeLeon


KAlmquist

unread,
May 22, 2007, 1:07:20 AM5/22/07
to The Authoritarians
Here is the way I thought about this question:

I went through the test, and discovered that six of the
twenty questions contain references to religion, God,
or prayer. Fourteen questions do not.

According to Altemeyer, the answers to all twenty questions
on the test are highly correllated, meaning that they are
all measuring more or less the same thing. So if the test
is measuring religious belief, that would mean that all the
questions are measuring religious belief, including the
fourteen questions which do not mention religion, God, or
prayer.

The bottom line is that that fact that a few of the questions
mention X, where X is religion, women's right, homosexuality,
or whatever, doesn't mean that the test results depend on X.
You can certainly argue about what it is that the test measures,
but whatever it is, it is something that is measured by all of
the questions, not just by some of them.

Kenneth Almquist

Scott Nelson

unread,
May 22, 2007, 1:35:57 AM5/22/07
to theautho...@googlegroups.com
I'm pretty sure you misunderstand what Dr. Bob meant, but you would have to have had training in psych assessment and test construction to get his meaning. The test items have high criterion validity, meaning (roughly) that they are all measuring facets of the same construct, and high internal validity, meaning (roughly) that high scores on certain test items predict high scores on others, and when that happens we conclude that high RWA is present.
 
It's not justified to jump to the conclusion that the construct in question must be religious belief, on the grounds that some of the items touch upon religion. It's more that:
a)  the whole test measures a construct called Right Wing Authoritarianism; and
b)  religious beliefs like those described by the relevant test items either constitute a portion of the RWA construct, or are correlated highly enough with the presence of RWA as to provide a useful degree of confidence that RWA is present.
 
You stated correctly that
 
"...You can certainly argue about what it is that the test measures, but whatever it is, it is something that is measured by all of the questions, not just some of them."
 
Which I find puzzling because it appears to contradict the premise of your first two paragraphs.
 
Altemeyer's argument about what the test measures is a personality construct that he happens to label "Right Wing Authoritarianism." He, or we, could instead choose to call it "Thousand Island Dressing" or "Advanced Halitosis," but that would neither define nor change whatever it is that the test is measuring any more than "Right Wing Authoritarianism" does, except Altemeyer's label is more helpful and descriptive than those others and communicates more successfully what Dr. Bob perceives to be the nature of the thing being measured. A rose by any other name... And as Dr. Bob himself mentions, all of the questions are necessary for any results to be considered reliable and valid - he takes great issue with other researchers who have used abbreviated versions of his instrument for that very reason.
 
What's less important than the label we apply is what the test items reveal. No matter what we call the construct, if we are to believe Dr. Bob's factor analysis, the items taken together reveal a distinct dimension of personality that other tests do not. That is the significance of the RWA scale - its uniqueness.
 
Cheers!
 
- Scott Nelson

KAlmquist

unread,
May 24, 2007, 1:07:00 AM5/24/07
to The Authoritarians
I think that we are both saying basicly the same thing. We agree
that, "You can certainly argue about what it is that the test

measures, but whatever it is, it is something that is measured by
all of the questions, not just some of them." That is exactly the
idea that I was trying to convey, however unsuccessfully, when I
wrote:

According to Altemeyer, the answers to all twenty questions
on the test are highly correllated, meaning that they are
all measuring more or less the same thing. So if the test
is measuring religious belief, that would mean that all the
questions are measuring religious belief, including the
fourteen questions which do not mention religion, God, or
prayer.

> personality that other tests do not. *That* is the significance of the RWA


> scale - its uniqueness.
>
> Cheers!
>
> - Scott Nelson
>

Reply all
Reply to author
Forward
0 new messages