How to Recognize Right-wing Authoritarians

According to a series of articles in The Daily Kos (see references below) there are groups of traits that are common to most RWA conservatives. Here is an (extensive) excerpt from #3 in the series, which  categorizes and characterizes these traits.

A Quick And Dirty Guide To RWA

Nonetheless, the group portrait of RWA is distinctly disturbing, as can be seen from the list of tendencies that Altemeyer compiled and listed at the end of The Authoritarian Specter as a sort of compressed summary.  I’ve listed most of them in the tables that follow here, which provide some thematic coherence for them.  The first is the one that goes most directly to the issue at hand–conservative identity politics, which is built around the “good us”/”demonized them” dynamic.

Table 1: Hostility & Fear Toward Outgroups

RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Weaken constitutional guarantees of liberty, such as the Bill of Rights.
  • Punish severely `common’ criminals in a role-playing situation.
  • Admit they get personal pleasure from punishing such people.
  • But go easy on authorities who commit crimes and people who attack minorities.
  • Be prejudiced against many racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and linguistic minorities.
  • Be hostile toward homosexuals.
  • Support `gay-bashing.’
  • Be hostile toward feminists.
  • Volunteer to help the government persecute almost anyone.
  • Be mean-spirited toward those who have made mistakes and suffered.
  • Be fearful of a dangerous world.

These items show broad and robust evidence of hostility toward designated outgroups.  There’s also evidence of contempt, inability and unwillingness to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  Systematically misunderstanding others is second nature with this sort of outlook, and is clearly related to the dynamics of an identity politics defined in opposition to groups of demonized others.  The actual interior experience of others is something that such a mindset simply cannot dare to seriously consider.  It is simply presumed to be “evil.”

On the flip side, are the tendencies toward their group identity cohesion.

Table 2: Not-So-Healthy Ingroup Cohesion

RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Strongly believe in group cohesiveness and `loyalty.’
  • Insist on traditional sex roles.
  • Use religion to erase guilt over their acts and to maintain their self-righteousness.
  • Be `fundamentalists’ and the most prejudiced members of whatever religion they belong to.
  • Accept unfair and illegal abuses of power by government authorities.
  • Trust leaders (such as Richard Nixon) who are untrustworthy.

Table 3: Faulty reasoning

RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Make many incorrect inferences from evidence.
  • Hold contradictory ideas leading them to `speak out of both sides of their mouths.’
  • Uncritically accept that many problems are `our most serious problem.’
  • Uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs.
  • Uncritically trust people who tell them what they want to hear.
  • Use many double standards in their thinking and judgements.

One logical flaw which reflects both on misunderstanding of others and themselves, is RWAs elevated tendency to commit what’s called the “Fundamental Attribution Error” (FAE)–overexplaining others’ actions in terms of personalities and under-explaining them in terms of situational factors.  This what lies behind uncritically trusting people who tell them what they want to hear–they believe what the person is saying is a true expression of how they feel, and ignore the contextual evidence that they are simply pandering. This also helps to explain why they trust unscrupulous leaders, such as Nixon and Bush.

As for self-knowledge, although RWAs have a number of character flaws consistent with group identity politics generally and religious fundamentalism [already mentioned] specifically–see Table 4–they’re remarkably blind to their own failings–see Table 5.

Table 4: Profound Character Flaws

RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Be dogmatic.
  • Be zealots.
  • Be hypocrites.
  • Be bullies when they have power over others.
  • Help cause and inflame intergroup conflict.
  • Seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive in situations requiring cooperation.

Table 5: Blindness To Own Failings

RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Believe they have no personal failings.
  • Avoid learning about their personal failings.
  • Be highly self-righteous.
  • Use religion to erase guilt over their acts and to maintain their self-righteousness.

The cumulative picture summarized in these five tables is clearly that of people who have a multifacted set of tendencies that work together to foster a conformist group identity that is maintained in part by demonizing others, and expresses itself in a propensity, or at least tolerance for violence.

Last, we turn to the more specifically political tendencies, some of which have been mentioned before, but are included here for the sake of completeness

Table 6: RWA’s Political Tendencies

RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Weaken constitutional guarantees of liberty, such as the Bill of Rights.
  • Accept unfair and illegal abuses of power by government authorities.
  • Trust leaders (such as Richard Nixon) who are untrustworthy.
  • Sometimes join left-wing movements, where their hostility distinguishes them.
  • But much more typically endorse right-wing political parties.
  • Be conservative/Reform party (Canada) or Republican Party (United States) lawmakers who

1. have a conservative economic philosophy;
2. believe in social dominance;
3. are ethnocentric;
4. are highly nationalistic;
5. oppose abortion;
6. support capital punishment;
7. oppose gun-control legislation;
8. say they value freedom but actually want to undermine the Bill of Rights;
9. do not value equality very highly and oppose measures to increase it;
10. are not likely to rise in the Democratic party, but do so among Republicans.

Since this description is quite comprehensive, there is not much for me to add. Future blogs will illustrate how political and religious groups exhibit these traits.


  1. -Conservatism-As-Identity-Politics-Intro
  2. -Conservatism-As-Identity-Politics-Pt2-Hard-Core-Data
  3. -Rightwing-Authoritarianism-and-Conservative-Identity

About Hoosedwhut

Engineer - by education, training, and career experience. Philosopher - by inclination and choice. Amateur psychologist - by instinct and necessity. Amateur theologian - by birth into two distinct worlds...
This entry was posted in Fun Facts for Fundigelicals, Fundamentalist Myths, Politics and Social Issues, Religion, Right-wing Authoritarians. Bookmark the permalink.

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