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Bob Pilgrim Email

Dear People,
I'm an MA psychologist who'll be 80 upon his next birthday.  I was a student of the Berkeley PhD graduates certified by Else Frenkl-Brunswik,
Erikson, et al circa 1945-1955.  The authoritarian personality syndrome as discussed, described, & explained by   Frenkl-Brunswik, et al, really needs a follow up study with the MMPI clinical scales (& sub-scales).  I overlooked the rather obvious connection of the E & F scales with the neurotic triad & the psychotic cluster contained within the MMPI.  It's my viewpoint that the time has come for your generation to do the empirical studies required to validate the psychopathology that's associated/correlated with the authoritarian personality.
         Bob Pilgrim

Scott Email


Imagine being able to spar with one of these people. I've had the opportunity but have since given up because it's useless. 

I was lucky to be raised by a physician who instilled a genuine curiosity in me. My early television watching included Star Trek, Carl Sagan and televangelists. Sagan won out by a long shot. My mind was made up and 8 years of religious education was fully deflected. 

Of course, I've always been polite enough to not trample on people's beliefs until I started working with a real a-hole who I somehow offered my unedited opinions to. Our conversations made me realize he's an authority worshiper and doesn't think for himself. He'd character assassinate anyone without listening to what they had to say. The fascinating part is that he has plenty of mental horsepower. I had him take the first questionnaire in your book and he scored a 120.  

He believes that the recent asteroid that passed by earth is a warning from God. 

Getting to know this individual gave me an appreciation of the perspective that a decent science education has given me. He has no curiosity and no sense of awe of the realities of the observable universe. He actually tried to prove the existence of god by saying that we don't know how the sun shines. I told him it's nuclear fusion due to the force of gravity, dumb shit! 

After reading your book, I can say for sure the following describes his psychology:
  • compartmentalized, conflicting beliefs
  • the world is a scary, dangerous place
  • he would LOVE to harshly punish and condemn. 
  • his religious motivations are based in external recognition (I told him this and he agreed - I got to him for about a day)
  • he's only interested in arguing
  • everyone thinks he's a self-righteous a-hole. they are correct
Thanks for making your book available! I tried to get this jackass to read it but he is a coward. If someone gave me a book that described my personality and said it would be like looking in the mirror, I'd read it cover to cover. 

I know it's not what the book is for, but I'd get a kick out of it. Maybe I'm a sociopath. 





I wanted to thank you for writing this book and making it available free of charge.  As a slightly younger person I was involved in young Republican politics.  At the time I believed that it was a pro-business party and therefore a party I wanted to be associated with. 

After a time I found the religious, anti-gay, anti-minority "dog whistle" rhetoric to be deplorable.  They would laugh at protesters being injured by police and despite their claimed love for the American revolution would feel "rules are rules".  I could never clearly put into words what I saw until I read your book.  Now it makes a lot more sense.

And yes I've forwarded it to all my former Republican friends.  Again I appreciate you disseminating a lifetime of work and passion into an enjoyable to read (and free!) ebook.

Kind Regards,

Gary Williams Email

re: Lifelong Dem,
Fifty years of Cold War rhetoric has taken an incredible toll on the average citizens understanding of what exactly is meant by the terms, the political "Left" or "Right".  Your post makes that point quite well in it's assertion that the Obama administration, or even the Democratic Party itself represent an ideology that is truly indicative of left-wing politics. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Although that doesn't appear to worry all those politicians and pundits looking to capitalize on all that residual rage and bitterness Americans still have toward anything 'Left" - mistakenly equating it with the totalitarian regimes of Stalin and Pol Pot rather than the attitude a nation or society has toward granting it's citizens political and economic equality/egalitarianism. Because that is what is actually being measured by the left-right political spectrum, with the more left it is, the more egalitarian; the more elitist, the more right-wing it is. As Giddens put it back in '98, 
“One major criterion continually reappears in distinguishing left from right: attitudes toward equality

Of course the effort to keep the morons a-marching and happily paying their tax-dollars to fund the creation of a military superpower (during peace-time in a democratic nation no less!) faced a serious hurdle in that "the battle to stop the trend toward greater equality" makes for very poor military propaganda. Better "gooks with nukes, godless madmen w/nukes, Reds w/nukes,  nuclear winters w/nukes, etc.would surely sell the Cold War to the average American better than the true ideological underpinning of left-wing notions .....things like universal health care, teaching social responsibility and cooperation over the social Darwinism implicit in right-wing ideology,  "From each, according to their abilities - To each, according to their needs", etc, etc, 

So only when Obama or the Democratic Party starts talking seriously about introducing the above policies, then and only then will it be correct to describe them as "left-wing".   

Mike O'Brien 

Would like to offer a comment on this from Milgram:
"Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.” Milgram

Milgram's comment in a way is like position Fromm's position: that man flees from freedom.

But both assume a prior level of development that I think should not be presumed. I think it's not the case of an autonomous individual giving up his autonomy, or of a free individual giving up his freedom, to merge with a larger entity. I think it's more the case that such individuals have never fully become individuals, or autonomous, or free. Becoming these is a developmental process, but, in the case of these many individuals, a process that never completed, that never fully took place. It's a process that depends upon the presence and activity of other persons for it to happen. There must be a quality of interaction with others, a sustained empathic interaction with others, in and through which an individual can come to "be" as an individual, and not merely as a member of a group ruled, essentially, by others. 

Note Erik Erikson's developmental theory in this regard: an earliest stage characterized by the development, or relative failure of development, of trust; a next stage, depending on the success of the first, entailing the development of a sense of autonomy (or the failure in its development); and then a stage he called the "initiative" stage, which is characterized by things kind of "coming together" in the mind of the individual. After this comes the development of personal skills (industry stage) and of one's identity as an individual.

I would submit that the clinical or phenomenological evidence is that many individuals in society never progress past the first or second stages. And that when this happens, there are marked deficiencies in all the areas Erikson saw as occurring subsequently and epigenetically. Among authoritarian personalities, for example, one finds a preponderance of fear and anxiety, dependence upon others, lack of independent initiative, lack of important skills and competencies, misleading and false pseud-identities, and lack of mutuality or interpersonal intimacy in relationships. 

It's all of a piece. It's all developmental. And human psychological development depends upon the kinds of nurturing relationships they've had, or not had, with others.  Look back into the upbringing and early life experiences of authoritarians and I think, if you're at all attuned to it, you'll find a lack of empathic relationships with others in their environments, and early signs of the lack of many of the later qualities Erikson describes in his developmental schema.

I think you'll find among RWA personalities a general uncertainty or lack of understanding of even what empathy is, or entails. In fact, empathy is variously defined depending upon who the definer is. But I have in mind in this case an empathy not just of an emotional sort but also of a cognitive sort--a real understanding of an individual and of how that individual sees the world and his/r own personal world.                           

Mike O'Brien Email

response to Patricia Shannon's comment: "What I would like to know is some methods to get thru to conservatives on a rational basis."

I've been thinking a lot about this. If you think about it, I think the basic problem with conservatives and RWA personalities is that they really have not developed (yet) an ability to think confidently (without overwhelming anxiety) for themselves, the result being that they need to "outsource" their thinking to some person, precedent, or ideology they can trust to be more secure or correct than what they would come up with, or than what you or I would come up with. Given that, I suspect the best approach with them would not be to try to convince them of your ideas at all (which would be threatening, confusing, and alarming and "dangerous" to them), but to try to join them in a friendly and relaxing way, raise a sincere question with them, and listen with patience, interest, curiosity, and respect to their responses--try to be there with them and be interested in their own thoughts on the issue. This may help them develop their thinking on the matter, and feel more secure, since you're not threatening them, but are genuinely "esteeming" them. The more secure people feel, the less-threatened they feel, the less "authoritarian" they need to act. (There is some research on this.) If you encourage (and respect) their thinking, this may help them become more "aware" of their own individual thinking as well. Kind of using an approach like Carl Rogers used in his person-centered counseling: unconditional positive regard, personal genuineness, trying to understand the viewpoint and experience of the other person, helping the other articulate his/her own view of the matter.

I know I personally came from a very authoritarian environment and upbringing, one characteristic of which was that no one ever asked me what I thought about anything. A result was that, believe it or not, I grew up not having opinions of my own about most things. I was not "opinionated." I had never stopped to think about most things; my role had been to accept and respect what others thought. What I thought, in my environment, was considered by most others to be totally irrelevant. So I was just a bystander to what others thought.

I did ultimately progress toward becoming a more independent thinker, but only after others, whom I respected, took an interest in what I thought about things. That ultimately led to my having more interest in what I thought about things as well. And to my having more respect for what I thought about things, for now I had learned others might actually be interested or find of value what I, and perhaps only I, thought about a number of things. So I became more thoughtful. And only gradually developed more self-confidence in what I thought when I learned that others had confidence in my views of things.

So, with these kinds of experiences, and only with these kinds of experiences, I gradually moved from having a classic RWA personality to becoming more of an individual thinker whose thinking turned out to be more creative, progressive, and "individualized."  Now I score a zero, or whatever the lowest possible score on Altemeyer's RWA questionnaire.               

Mike O'Brien Email

To Ted Rowden's question about the term:
I have similar sentiments to the ones you expressed. Many thanks to Bob for his decades of work cleaning up this concept and defining a reliable measure of it.  I too, however, would like to find a more productively usable term for it.

I wonder if it wouldn't be better to simply use the term "authoritarian personality" in big print, and then asterisk it as RWA personality, the latter being what's really meant, to distinguish it from earlier uses of "TAP."

Then, there's also the matter of needing a better term for the "non-authoritarian personality".  Here I'm leaning toward using the term Individual Personality--meaning the person who is more fully or more authentically an individual. (Maybe a productive link could be made here to Adler's use of this term, though I haven't examined that closely enough yet.)  Then we could talk about Authoritarian Personalities vs Individual Personalities--and where authoritarian personalities are most commonly found and where more individual personalities are most commonly found. This schema, in my view, might at least introduce contrasting personality types without immediately starting a political war.           

Jeremy S 

I don't know how much this has been discussed in the guestbook or wherever, but what research has been done on the 'upsides' to highly authoritarian people? Things that they're relatively good at compared to the rest of the public? Overall positive things achieved by authoritarian groups? My memory of the book is rusty (it's been a few years since it helped me understand a lot about the world), but I'm really wondering how much of a problem it is fundamentally...

Since I might not think to stop by to see responses to this, an e-mail response wouldn't be unwelcome. Thanks.

Lifelong Democrat 

Don't kid yourself that authoritarian tendencies are exclusive to the so-called conservative right. The current administration has been far more sophisticated in extending and institutionalizing the same policies as the previous administration. I have to give credit to authoritarian conservatives, at least they are up front and honest about what they believe.  Unlike the current regime.

This is not about Left vs. Right this is about wealth, power and control. The governing class always wants more of all three regardless of ideology.

Ted Rowden Email


 Thanks to Dr. Bob for his decades of work on this subject- it's something I've been trying to wrap my head around for quite awhile and his research has answered many questions for me, but---as I suppose all good research does-- it has raised a whole new set of  questions. (I hear you groaning. Relax!  I won't ask them all.)

   What I'd like to know is---and please give me the benefit of the doubt here. I'm on your side and do not wish this to sound in any way critical--Do you find that the term "Right-Wing Authoritarianism", while perfectly descriptive to one who knows the jargon, is sometimes off-putting to the layman?..... I only ask this because often when I try to give a quick synopsis of your book, even to someone I personally know to be like-minded, their eyes glaze over in the amount of time it take me to say "It's great! He's developed this scale he calls Right-Wing Authoritarianism and it's ....."    So far, no one has tried that I've-got-to-call-the-babysitter ploy, but it's probably only a matter of time.......So....Has anyone found a quick and dirty description that might work as a hook? It would be nice to get them on the line before springing the RWA term on them.  I know I've made too many jokes here, but I mean the question to be totally serious.

Thanks again, it's nice to learn that all those things I KNEW about the worst of the right-wingers really are true...So far I've resisted the temptation to print up a copy of the book and start thumping it.--"Hey knuckleheads!! Remember how I've been telling you clowns how narrow-minded, bigoted and fearful you are? Well, here's the scientific proof!!"

Gary D. Williams Email

I've been experimenting with ways of using their own authoritarian deference against them and co-opting the direction one of their many "echo-chamber" re-affirmation sites is headed. Unfortunately, since their function seems to be to solidify pre-existing beliefs rather than mull over something new (I've introduced posing as an "in-group" conservative) , that echo-chamber recording of existing beliefs soon reasserts itself and anything new is forgotten.

And unfortunately, unless I find some cognitive "trick" like hypnotism, or the "illusionist" umagicians use of subtle cues that subconsciously direct attention in a way useful to him, I can't think of much that doesn't in some way involve just lying to them in much the same manner as the SDOs who lead them to war, to torture, and betray their own social class (perhaps as another version of Trivers "reciprocal altruism" )

And that strikes a deeply unsettling chord, not only to my own personal sense of ethics, but also those of the people I try to recruit for 'independant' confirmation of a story I've introduced into the "hive" as a fellow RWA, hoping it plays out by redirecting their response to a false talking-point they would usually accept as  a gospel truth.    

But I tell myself that underlying intentions for violating laws or ethical taboos matters a great deal, just as surely as the intent behind writing a law in the first place. (eg. a law that disengenously appeals to our desire for judicial equality by restricting both rich and poor people from sleeping under bridges to stay dry. kudos Anatole France).

Patricia Shannon Email

What I would like to know is some methods to get thru to conservatives on a rational basis.  Eg., recent research found that if conservatives believe a problem doesn't have a solution, they will simply disbelieve there is a problem. As soon as this was published, I saw it used by a global warming denialist.  Since conservatism is fear-based, this research makes sense.  So I would suggest that in trying to engage conservatives to deal rationally with problems such as global warming, we make sure not to suggest the problem is unsolvable, but rather focus on what we can do to avoid or at least lessen the problem.

Patricia Shannon Email

My hypothesis is that for most of human history, new knowledge came slowly. By the time you were grown, you had learned what you needed to survive in your location - eg., what plants were poisonous. If you didn't pay attention to such things, you might die. Not all the "facts" would be correct, but as a whole, they worked, or the group would not still exist. So most people are conformist. But things change, and there are always improvements that can be learned, so having a few thinkers and explorers would also be of benefit to the group.

Gary D. Williams Email


A lot of interesting ideas there Milgram. I too, spend a fair bit of time trying to reconstruct a feasible series of arguments that can explain how people with such blatantly...or so it seems to me at least, I'll admit!.... dysfunctional personalities could have evolved into the apparently stable presence as a subgroup  of mankind without those tendencies to eg., ignore reality in favor of simply being able to hold onto a prior ones likely learned as a small child but now being used in ways that spell life or death decisions for both them and others.


This example here (and what I'm certain are many, many others!)would seem to conspire against their having much of a genetic origin. But if that's not it, then why the ubiquity and relatively stable population as a subgroup within a great many other social subgroups around the world?


Yes.. Had I only encountered this field of study while still young and planning a career, this would be what what I do today and had done always. Even without that background, I spend probably wayyy too much time going through conserv websites, anthropo-, historical, political science, sociological...On and on...each day new new comments read forming new personalities to account for all these traits in one person. And then writing these down to see if they have enough structure and logic to be worth pursuing further...


Oh yeah. This is definitely  what I would have done with my life.  LOL


Anyhow, in a rather remarkable coincidence, the reason I came over here today was to leave a link to a guy's web-page that struck me as perhaps one of the finest examples of what sort of pandemonium and unlikely allies will result if highly compartmentalized thoughts/thinking are left unchecked for too long!





“Each individual possesses a conscience which to a greater or lesser degree serves to restrain the unimpeded flow of impulses destructive to others. But when he merges his person into an organizational structure, a new creature replaces autonomous man, unhindered by the limitations of individual morality, freed of humane inhibition, mindful only of the sanctions of authority.” Milgram

Merging ones person into an organisational structure (predominantly a hierarchy of authoritarian followers) is how this hideous and destructive Capitalist system maintains itself.  Once in a hierarchy the person or core self as Jungians might put it, becomes compartmentalised.  Compartmentalisation creates psychosis which can be severe, for example, a person might justify working in a munitions factory that builds the 'smart weapons' by saying 'I'm doing this for my kids, so that they can have a better life',  but when the weapons they've had a hand in building kill innocent children then, there is a crisis in the core self, its bad to kill children, their lives then become fraught as they struggle to maintain their work-home compartmentalisation, and the cognitive dissonance eats away.  This is a very unhealthy way to live ones life, but it's how most endure their existence. 

In the 1960's the 'right' for want of a better description were losing the moral argument, and consequently the battle for hearts and minds, they were panicked, but came up with a plan of sorts.  The rich (the 1% in current parlance - see the Occupy Movement) used their private fortunes to set up 'think tanks' to come up with a moral justification for well er  Capitalism basically.  Belief in god was falling. So Ayn Rand (among others) and her group set about defining a moral justification for selfishness and greed, a new ideology was born - presented as truth.  Rand's invented ideology was promoted by the 1%'s media, and her works are still big sellers. 

The problem for Rand's invented ideology is that it flies directly in the face of human being's evolutionary past as social primates. i.e. we are for example naturally co-operative.

Those on the right that suffered the inevitable cognitive dissonance set up by Rand's ideology and the evolutionary reality of the human species' social group survival strategy, rejected it and instead turned to religion to give moral justification to their greedy and self centered lives as 'individuals' they tell themselves "I'm moral, I go to church".   It's why religion plays such a big role in the politics of the right in the USA, religion is used to justify morally, their selfish greed.


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