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Sat Nov 21, 2015, 01:14 PM

 

The Authoritarian Personality Why do some people seem irrational in their devotion [View all]

to certain authoritative leaders regardless of what these leaders do or have done and regardless what these leaders stand for? I believe the answer is important in knowing what we are dealing with.

Eric Fromm in his essay, “The Authoritarian Personality” subscribes this behavior to authoritarian personalities. He explains that there are two distinct types of authoritarians. One that wants to rule, control, or restrain others and the other type that tends to submit and obey. In other words leaders and followers. While seemingly different these two types are bound together in a symbiotic relationship.

“What they have in common, what defines the essence of the authoritarian personality is an inability: the inability to rely on one’s self, to be independent, to put it in other words: to endure freedom.”

This would explain why some are so willing to follow leaders that obviously are not interested in freedoms or liberties, but quite the opposite. Let's face it, being free is a lot of work and too tough for some.

Authoritarian followers seek the protection, or what they see as protection, of strong authoritarian leaders. And followers will strongly defend this authority in a number of ways including the persecution of whistle-blowers, investigative journalists, protesters, and liberals in general; those that challenge authorities and seek the truth. This disturbs the followers because they don't want to deal with the truth, they really can't handle the truth.

Authoritarian leaders on the other hand, while seeming to be tough and strong, actually are nothing without their submissive followers. But hese apparently strong, tough leaders themselves are followers to a higher authoritarian authority (ie, the bigger bully).

This is not to say that all authority contains something pathological? There is a very significant distinction between rational and irrational authority.

“Rational authority is the recognition of authority based on critical evaluation of competences. When a student recognizes the teacher’s authority to know more than him, then this a reasonable evaluation of his competence.”
Rational authority is not based on excluding reason and critique but rather assumes it as a prerequisite.
This does not make one small and the authority great but allows authority to be superior where and as long it possesses competence. Rational authority is challenged often. The respect for this authority must be maintained.

On the other hand irrational authority is based on emotional submission to another person, follower to leader. This is not because of a belief that the leader is competent, honorable, or principled, but more likely because of a perceived strength that the follower admires. Irrational authority is never challenged by the follower, and the follower will try to silence those that do challenge the authority, because it might expose the authority (leader) to be a fraud.

“The opposite of the (irrational) authoritarian character is the mature person: a person who does not need to cling to others because they actively embrace and grasp the world, the people, and the things around them.”

Children have a need to be dependent when they are young. As children grow and develop they need to be taught the difference between rational and irrational authority. This puts a burden on the authority figures in a child's life. Children need to be taught to be independent, skeptical and open minded; to heed authority and/or to question authority when appropriate.
Children need to be taught to reason. “Reason is the activity of the mind which attempts to get through the surface to reach the core of things, to grasp what really lies behind these things, what the forces and drives are that — themselves invisible — operate and determine the manifestations.”

Sadly it's expedient to use irrational authority as a parent, a teacher, a coach, a religious leader, a boss, etc. This behavior is acceptable in our culture. Our culture in the United States accepts, if not promotes authoritarianism (bullying). Throughout history we've used our wealth and power to bully the rest of the world.

Many popular TV shows and movies honor the bullies like Dirty Harry and Jack Bauer. The rationalization is always that we only bully for goodness. The NSA/CIA is a huge bully and the fact that they are not being regulated bothers some, however, the authoritarians among us support them, blindly believing that they only bully for goodness.

Again from Eric Fromm, “But I do not want to close without emphasizing that the individual’s goal must be to become his own authority; i.e. to have a consciousness in moral issues, conviction in questions of intellect, and fidelity in emotional matters. However, the individual can only have such an inner authority if he has matured enough to understand the world with reason and love. The development of these characteristics is the basis for one’s own authority and therefore the basis for political democracy.”

I hope this explains why some people we run into won't discuss politics rationally. Most often these are Republicons, but almost all are conservatives. Liberals and progressives are more likely to be open minded and not blindly follow leaders.

Happy Thanksgiving



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