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The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.

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 Western Europe and its relationship with conservative ideology

The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West.


Three Flemish samples were examined for the existence of left-wing authoritarianism (LWA), as well as its connections to right-wing authoritarianism (RWA), and conservative ideology. A newly designed LWA scale was shown to be internally consistent and to demonstrate excellent construct validity in the first study, which was conducted on a sample of typical voters (N = 208). The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

Another voter sample (N = 264) as well as a sample of political activists (N = 69) were assessed in the second study. Only a small number of regular voters in the two samples had high LWA scores. Additionally, the aggression and submission items did not load on separate components, and LWA was favorably correlated with RWA, cultural conservatism, and economic conservatism while negatively correlated with all three. The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

On the other hand, in the political activist sample, left-wing extremists frequently had high LWA scores, and there was proof of a two-dimensional LWA aggression-submission structure. RWA, cultural conservatism, and economic conservatism were all negatively correlated with LWA. Discussion is had regarding the idea of LWA and its theoretical foundations.

Left-Wing Authoritarianism Exists in the West.

Key Words: communism, right-wing authoritarianism, left-wing authoritarianism, cultural conservatism, economic conservatism

Left-wing authoritarianism’s prevalence in Western Europe and how it relates to conservative philosophy

Left-Wing Authoritarianism Exists in the West.

One of the pillars of political psychology is The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950). The recent interest in the authoritarian-ism idea is attested by research summaries published 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). The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

One of the most contentious topics among authoritarianism researchers is whether authoritarianism is only prevalent among adherents of extreme right-wing ideologies (e.g., Altemeyer, 1996; Stone, 1980; Stone & Smith, 1993) or whether it can also be found among supporters of extreme left-wing ideologies (e.g., Eysenck, 1954, 1981; Ray, 1983).

Traditional techniques (such as Eysenck, 1954; Rokeach, 1960; Tetlock, 1983; Sidanius, 1984) attempted to construct or identify metrics on which left- and right-wing extremists would score higher than moderates. These endeavors weren’t wholly successful, though. Left-Wing Authoritarianism Exists in the West. Altemeyer (1981) developed a scale measuring right-wing authoritarianism; more recently, he created a scale measuring left-wing authoritarianism (LWA).

While the RWA questions allude to established authority, the LWA scale embeds these items in the framework of a left-wing revolutionary cause. Both measures measure the attitudinal clusters of authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression, and conventionalism. After analyzing the data of 2,544 Canadian participants, Altermeyer (1996) came to the conclusion that he was unable to pinpoint any left-wing authoritarians, referring to LWA as the “Loch Ness monster of political psychology.”

The goal of the current study is to demonstrate that LWA exists, but that it only affects a small number of people. That is, we anticipate that LWA will be present among party members who are extremists (i.e., among those who are anarchists and members of radical left-wing parties). However, neither among activists of “established” political parties nor in samples of regular individuals are things we anticipate to find with LWA. The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

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 thatfascists 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. The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

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. The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

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. The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

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 The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

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 communist 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. The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West

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. The Presence of Left Wing Authoritarianism in West