The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at:

The Presence of Left‐Wing Authoritarianism in Western Europe and Its

Relationship with Conservative Ideology

Article  in  Political Psychology · October 2006

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2006.00532.x




3 authors:

Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects:

Entitlement, belief in life as zero-sum game and subjective well-being: 42-nation study View project

Multitasking View project

Alain Van Hiel

Ghent University


SEE PROFILE The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

Bart Duriez

Karel de Grote-Hogeschool



Małgorzata Kossowska

Jagiellonian University



All content following this page was uploaded by Bart Duriez on 27 September 2018.

The user has requested enhancement of the downloaded file.




The presence of left-wing authoritarianism in Western Europe

and its relationship with conservative ideology

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

Alain Van Hiel, Bart Duriez, and Malgorzata Kossowska

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

Author Note: Alain Van Hiel, Department of Developmental, Personality and Social Psychology, Ghent

University (Belgium); Bart Duriez, Department of Psychology, Katholieke Universiteit

Leuven (Belgium); Malgorzata Kossowska, Institute of Psychology, Krakow (Poland).


Running Head: Left-Wing Authoritarianism


Correspondence should be sent to Alain Van Hiel, Department of Developmental, Personality and Social

Psychology, Henri Dunantlaan 2, B-9000, Ghent, Belgium. E-mail:


The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.



The presence of left-wing authoritarianism in Western Europe

and its relationship with conservative ideology

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.


The presence of left-wing authoritarianism (LWA) as well as its relationship with right-wing authoritarianism

(RWA) and conservative ideology was tested in three Flemish samples. In the first study conducted on a

sample of ordinary voters (N = 208), a newly developed LWA scale was found to be internally consistent

and to show high construct validity. In the second study, another voter sample (N = 264) and a sample of

political activists (N = 69) were tested. In the two samples of ordinary voters, only few people obtained high

LWA scores. Moreover, the aggression and submission items did not load on distinct components and LWA

was positively related to RWA and cultural conservatism, and negatively to economic conservatism.

Conversely, in the political activist sample high LWA scores were common among left-wing extremists and

evidence was found for a two-dimensional LWA aggression-submission structure. LWA was negatively

related to RWA, cultural conservatism, and economic conservatism. The concept of LWA and its theoretical

underpinnings are discussed.

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

Key Words: communism; cultural conservatism; economic conservatism; left-wing authoritarianism;

political beliefs; right-wing authoritarianism





The presence of left-wing authoritarianism in Western Europe

and its relationship with conservative ideology

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950) can be

considered as one of the cornerstones of political psychology. Research overviews in Advances of

Experimental Social Psychology (Altemeyer, 1998; Duckitt, 2001) and Political Psychology (Martin, 2001;

special issue edited by G. E. Marcus for Political Psychology) attest the recent interest in the authoritarian-

ism concept. Among authoritarianism researchers, one of the most debated issues is whether

authoritarianism is typical at the extreme right-wing side of the political spectrum only (e.g., Altemeyer,

1996; Stone, 1980; Stone & Smith, 1993), or whether authoritarianism can also be detected among

adherents of extreme left-wing ideology (e.g., Eysenck, 1954, 1981; Ray, 1983). Traditional approaches

tried to develop or identify measures on which left-wing and right-wing extremists would score higher than

moderates (e.g., Eysenck, 1954; Rokeach, 1960; Tetlock, 1983; Sidanius, 1984). However, these attempts

were not entirely successful. The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

Recently, Altemeyer (1996) constructed a left-wing authoritarianism (LWA) scale that structurally

resembles his right-wing authoritarianism (RWA) scale (Altemeyer, 1981). Both instruments measure the

attitudinal clusters of authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism, but whereas

the RWA items refer to established authorities, in the LWA scale these items are embedded in the context

of a left-wing revolutionary cause. After investigating data of 2,544 Canadian participants, Altermeyer (1996)

concluded that he could not identify one single left-wing authoritarian, calling LWA somewhat sceptical the

“Loch Ness monster of political psychology.”

In the present study, we will try to show that LWA does exist, but that it is only present in very

specific groups. That is, we expect that LWA can be found among activists of extremist parties (i.e., among

members of extreme left-wing parties and, to some extent, among anarchists). However, we do not expect

to find LWA in samples of ordinary citizens, nor among activists of “established” political parties. The search


The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.


for left-wing authoritarians constitutes our first aim, but the ideological correlates of LWA and RWA are

investigated as well. In particular, it is investigated whether RWA and LWA are differentially related to

cultural and economic conservatism.

Classic studies on left-wing authoritarianism

Various authors have criticised The Authoritarian Personality because it was restricted to the

problem of right-wing extremism (e.g., Eysenck, 1954; Rokeach, 1960). These authors asserted that

fascists and communists have many attitudes in common that oppose the value systems of democrats. The

position that communists as well as fascists share traits similar to the ones described in The Authoritarian

Personality has become known as extremism theory or authoritarianism of the left theory (see, Durrheim,

1997-a; Sidanius, 1988). Early contributions in this tradition tried to identify personality dimensions that

characterize extremists of whatever political stance. In order to achieve this aim, Eysenck (1954) extracted

two factors from the correlations among 40 attitudinal statements. The first dimension was interpreted as

liberalism versus conservatism. The second dimension was labelled toughmindedness versus tendermind-

edness. Eysenck (1954; Eysenck & Coulter, 1972) showed that moderates generally obtain low

toughmindedness scores, whereas extremist groups such as communists (N = 43) and especially fascists

(N = 43) obtained higher scores. However, Eysenck’s study has been severely criticized because the F-

scores reported for the moderate group were the lowest obtained so far (Christie, 1956). Moreover,

Rokeach and Hanley (1956) argued that Eysenck’s (1954) results could be explained on the basis of the

content of the toughmindedness scale, which was composed of anti-religiosity and anti-humanitarianism

items. Thus, Rokeach and Hanley (1956) argued that communists obtain high scores on this scale because

they express agreement with the anti-religiosity items, whereas fascists obtain high scores because they

agree with the anti-humanitarianism items. As a consequence, adherents of both extremist groups are likely

to obtain higher toughmindedness scores than moderates who are likely to reject all these statements.

In an attempt to overcome the latter problem, Rokeach (1960) developed the dogmatism scale to

measure ideology-free authoritarianism. He obtained somewhat higher though non-significant dogmatism




scores in communists (N = 13). However, in a study of the Italian Parliament, DiRenzo (1967) obtained the

highest dogmatism levels among neo-fascists (N = 24), whereas extreme left-wingers (N = 25) obtained the

lowest scores. Knutson (1974) obtained similar results when studying the governing bodies of six American

political parties, ranging form the Communist Party (N = 11) to the neo-nazi American Socialist White

People’s Party (N = 13). In line with this, Rokeach (1960) obtained high positive correlations (.54 < r < .77)

between dogmatism and the F-scale, and other researchers reported positive correlations between

dogmatism and Altemeyer’s (1981) RWA scale (e.g., Van Hiel & Mervielde, 2002-a).

Whereas the aforementioned studies tried to identify LWA and RWA through the use of attitudinal

statements, Tetlock (1983, 1984, 1986) and Sidanius (1984, 1988) tried to establish the relationship

between extremism and cognitive functioning. Tetlock conducted a series of studies on the relationship

between political ideology and integrative complexity. Integrative complexity refers to two major structural

characteristics: (1) the degree of differentiation of cognitive elements, and (2) the degree of integration or

interrelatedness of these elements. Tetlock’s (1983, 1984) research, which was conducted on elite samples

from the US senate and the British House of Commons, revealed that advocates of center-left ideology

exhibit higher levels of integrative complexity than ‘extreme conservatives’ and ‘extreme socialists’. In

contrast, two studies conducted by Sidanius (1984, 1988) addressed the hypothesis that extremists show

higher levels of cognitive complexity. Cognitive complexity was measured by the political prediction test in

which participants had to estimate the degree of political rioting and murder likely to occur on the basis of

six items of information. Contrary to Tetlock’s findings, Sidanius reported greater cognitive complexity and

political interest in extremists. Hence, it can be concluded that the cognitive perspective on political

extremism yielded contradictory results (see, Durrheim, 1997-a, 1997-b; Van Hiel & Mervielde, 2003).

In sum, some authors took the existence of LWA for granted whereas others concluded that LWA

is a myth, and a fierce debate developed among scientists on the characteristics of political extremists (e.g.,

Christie, 1956; Eysenck, 1954; 1981; McCloskey & Chong, 1985; Ray, 1983; Rokeach & Hanley, 1956;

Stone, 1980; Stone & Smith, 1993). However, hardly any empirical data were available for this debate and




according to Stone and Smith (1993), many political psychologists “base their case on intuitive evidence …

concerning apparent similarities between regimes of the far left and far right, rather than on a systematic

review of the empirical data on any personality and ideology” (p. 154).

Recent developments

Two recent lines of investigation tried to advance the debate on LWA. First, the fall of the commu-

nist regime in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s provided extremism theorists with an

excellent chance to prove that they were right. As expected by extremism theory, Hamilton, Sanders, and

McKearney (1995) and McFarland, Ageyev, and Abalakina-Paap (1992) showed that (right-wing)

authoritarianism was positively related to support for communism. In this respect, it is important to know that

current thinking on RWA has evolved to a “new position” quite similar to the position advocated by

extremism theorists. For example, Altemeyer (1996) argues 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” (p. 218). This definition of authoritarianism

leads to the prediction that adherents of hard-line communist ideology in the former Soviet Union should

evince high RWA levels, whereas extreme left-wingers in Western countries should obtain low scores.

According to this point of view, ideal support for extremism theory would be obtained in samples of extreme

left-wing party members who try to overthrow an established right-wing bourgeoisie regime.

A second line of investigation that might advance the ongoing debate is constituted by Altemeyer’s

(1996) attempt to develop an LWA scale. According to Altemeyer, “psychological right-wingers … support

the perceived established authorities in society, and psychological left-wingers … oppose them” (p. 218).

However, not all psychological left-wingers can be considered authoritarian. Some of them are independent

individuals who want peaceful social reform and do not exhibit the typical authoritarian attitudes, whereas

other psychological left-wingers can be considered true (left-wing) authoritarians who want to seize all the

power themselves and do exhibit authoritarian attitudes.

Altemeyer (1996) defines LWA as the covariation of three attitudinal clusters: (1) Authoritarian