This is a previously unpublished article. A much abridged version of this article appeared in "Society" (vol. 41, no. 4, 2004) under the heading: "Explaining the Left/Right divide"
HISTORY VERSUS PSYCHOLOGY IN EXPLAINING THE LEFT/RIGHT DIVIDE
John Ray (M.A.;Ph.D.)
History is more consistent than party names
I am told that a great hint for salesmen is that they should start out with statements that everyone can agree on. I have some ideas to "sell" here so let me start out with just such a statement: The names of political parties can be pretty uninformative. As far as I know all parties that call themselves "communist" or "socialist" really are communist or socialist but that seems to be the only uniformity. For instance, very similar political parties in the United States, Britain and Australia are called respectively the "Republican" party, the "Conservative" party and the "Liberal" party. I do not intend to explore exactly why that is so but perhaps I might note in passing that political party policies change as the world changes so maybe the names of political parties are more informative earlier in the life of the party concerned than in more recent times. If so, the fact that explicitly socialistic and communist parties are mostly a phenomenon of the last 100 years might explain why they are mostly accurately named.
What I DO want to propose, however, is that there is far more uniformity in politics over time than party names would suggest. I want to suggest that the basic issues remain the same regardless of how the parties are named that advocate them. I want to submit, in fact, that the big controversy of the present about how much government should or should not do is a very ancient one, a very fundamental one and one that has been causing heads to roll for hundreds of years. The people who have opposed the tyranny of big government range from such unlikely characters as Queen Elizabeth I of England and Oliver Cromwell to more familiar figures such as Barry Goldwater, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan but all have trusted the ordinary people and stood up to tyranny to preserve or extend the liberties of ordinary people.
None of them have of course been examples of what we now call "libertarianism". ALL governments and political movements throughout history have seen the need for some control over what people can be permitted to do. But the guiding presumption in deciding just what is and is not permitted has always shown a cleavage between those who want more government control and those who want less. What the protagonists on the two sides of the debate have been called has changed from time to time and their detailed policies have changed from time to time but the basic cleavage is always there. Let me illustrate:
In the beginning
For us English-speakers it all goes back to 1066 and the Norman conquest of England. Prior to that date the fiercely independent Germanic tribesmen we know as the original Anglo-Saxons had very weak central governments when they had such a thing at all and power was very much diffused throughout the land. And when governmental power was exercised, it depended heavily on consultation with "elders" and other influential figures in the community.
But the Norman conquest disrupted all that. William of Normandy was a very powerful king indeed and did pretty much as he pleased with the hapless Anglo-Saxons he had conquered. But the Normans were only a small band (some say only 50,000 Normans came across to live among 3 million Anglo-Saxons) and in a few generations England absorbed them. The traditional decentralized and competitive power structure of England that William had disrupted was back with a vengeance as early as the time of King John and Magna Carta. So although Magna Carta is much celebrated as the beginning of English liberties, it might be better celebrated as an indication of their irrepressibility. And the ascendancy of Simon de Montfort not long after that also displayed the traditional English belief in the limited nature of central government power.
No account of Englishness and English liberty can be complete without mention of England's great and transformative Tudor period. The period started out well with the cautious Henry VII giving England much-needed stability but his son, Henry VIII (1491 -- 1547), gradually evolved into a powerful and ruthless despot and so is undoubtedly in some ways a blot on the history of English liberty. But it must be noted that even in his reign there were still in England great and powerful regional Lords and many less powerful but numerous local notables representing local interests that the King had to take great care with. Even Tudor central government power was highly contingent, far from absolute and much dependant on the popularity of the ruler among ordinary English people. And Henry was undoubtedly popular. But Henry's great deed for England was to let off the leash once and for all that great religious expression of individualism -- Protestantism -- something that had been popular among the ordinary English people since Wycliffe (1330 -- 1384).
It is however in the reign of Henry's brilliant daughter -- Elizabeth I (1533 -- 1603) -- that we see best what has long distinguished the English from others. She herself is famous for her tolerance of individual differences as expressed in her well-known statement that she did not wish to make a "window into men's souls" and, even whilst still young, she reproached that great bureaucrat and religious tyrant, King Philip II of Spain, by asking him: "Why cannot Your Majesty let your subjects go to the Devil in their own way?" (Quoted on p. 38 of That Great Lucifer: A portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh by Margaret Irwin [Bungay, Suffolk: Reprint Society, 1960])
Perhaps most revealing of all about the English difference at that time, however, is this account (pp. 102-104 Op. cit.) of the conquest of Trinidad by Elizabeth's most enduring favourite -- the enormously popular Sir Walter Ralegh:
The Dragon's Mouth and the Serpent's Mouth are the two ominously named long channels for entry to the island; and deep in the maw of the Dragon's Mouth was the new Spanish settlement of San Joseph, now Port of Spain, under the Governor Antonio de Berreo. He had provided the immediate practical reason for Ralegh's haste, not merely to better his lost fortunes, but also to catch up in the fresh spurt of the race between England and Spain.
Berreo had begun a search for the golden city of El Dorado, whose fame had been so firmly believed and attested by the Indians that few Europeans thought of it as fabulous. It was believed to be far up in the mainland hidden among what The Times, in 1959, called `the virtually unexplored jungles of the Amazon Basin and the Orinoco ... and the still ill-defined frontiers of Columbia, Venezuela, Brazil and the Guineas.... The unknown reaches of the Orinoco are a glimpse of the beginning of human time.'
The Spaniard Berreo's initial attempt for the Golden City had been disastrously cut short; but he was still determined to find it. Ralegh was determined to find it first. He had sent out a reconnaisance party late in the previous year under his `most honest and valiant' Captain, Jacob Whiddon. It had never reached the mainland, for some of them were hospitably invited ashore at Trinidad by Berreo, and then murdered in cold blood. As England and Spain were still openly at war, he doubtless felt his treachery a justifiable hint to the English that they were not welcome.
Ralegh at once followed his unlucky forerunners. Undeterred by the fact that he had now only one other ship to support his own, he made a surprise attack on San Joseph, and took Berreo prisoner; with the characteristically laconic comment, `Which had I not done, I should have savoured very much of the Ass.'
But there was no ill feeling or unpleasantness between them: Ralegh treated his prisoner as an honoured guest and wrote charming compliments of him which show his extraordinary power of detachment, in view of Berreo's treatment of Captain Whiddon-and even more inhuman treatment of others, as Ralegh quickly discovered. Yet he describes the suave and cultivated murderer that he had captured as `a Gent, well descended ... very valiant and liberal ... of great assuredness and of a great heart'; and how he himself entertained him 'according to his estate and worth in all things I could, according to the small means I had'.
They had long and amicable talks as they feasted together on the luscious mangoes and glossy crimson and yellow globes of the juicy fruits that contain the treasured little kernel of the pistachio nut; and the nubbly, crusty little oysters, `very salt and well-tasted', wrote Ralegh, who described their being plucked off the low-dangling mangrove branches at low tide-just as they are today -- and so was accused later of telling Travellers' Tales-for whoever heard of oysters growing on trees? Berreo told his travellers' tales of the green hell of jungle, monsters, and savages along the Orinoco; and with warm, even passionate feeling, for `he was stricken with great melancholy and sadness' as he begged his delightful host for his own sake not to risk his life in that horrible wilderness where he himself had so lamentably failed.
And Ralegh, with a tact equally friendly, refrained from assuring his guest that at least he would not assist his own failure by tying up five or six Indian chiefs together and leaving them to rot in a den underground. For this was one of the unpleasant discoveries he had made about his pleasant companion; and he had at once set free the wretched caciques whom he had found `almost dead with famine and wasted with torments'. Berreo had burned many alive and had caused some torn to pieces by dogs, a livelier form of sport, depicted in early prints of the Spaniards in South America. He might have recognized his mistake, if not his crime, for his cruelty had caused the Indians on the mainland to revolt against him, force him to evacuate Guiana, and so leave it clear of Spanish rule for Ralegh to advance upon it.
Ralegh was quick to improve upon Berreo's methods; and even on those of Christopher Columbus ninety-six years before, the first European Discoverer of the island, who had won a reputation for `sweetness and benignity' unparalleled by his later countrymen. But his business instincts had been a bit sharp for the natives, who still grumbled over their greatgrandfathers' slow disillusionment after Columbus had struck a good bargain for himself by trading a large number of brass chamber-pots to them as an interesting novelty, whose value had quickly worn off as news, and left the recipients doubtful as to their use. They might indeed have earned their cost and keep as cooking-pots with their additional convenience of a handle, but their intended use as a `convenience', in a world so warm and wide and indecent, was, so Columbus tells us, `but coldly met'. His sweetness and benignity to the natives also sounds rather cold and negative; for the chief instance given of it is that he refused to allow his crew, even when hungry, to kill and eat them.
Ralegh's appeal to the Indians was more positive and personal. He gathered all he could of the tribes together, and told them that he had been sent by his Cacique to set them free from the Spaniards, for he was `the servant of a Queen who was the great Cacique of the North, and a virgin, who had more caciques under her than there were trees in the island'. The metaphor is the earliest instance of his quickness to understand the native mind. Already he saw how impossible it was for them to take in anything of actual numbers; time and space, as well as people, could not be measured, only suggested by some vivid pictorial image.
The wise old Chief Topiawari whom he met later on the Orinoco, and who became Ralegh's true friend, could only explain hard facts by such imagery, which Ralegh delighted to note down for their natural poetry...
So we see with crystal clarity there the English difference: A respect for others, for the individual and for individual liberty that is the very basis of democracy. And that example is not an isolated instance. Reading further on in the same history (p. 123) we find Ralegh's account of the conquest of Cadiz -- undertaken in alliance with a Flemish fleet:
"English sailors were being piped over their ship's side, and on board the enemy's. Like rats the St Philip's crew began to bolt from her on every side. They had run her aground, and fire had broken out. At the peal of a trumpet, the English cut the anchor ropes of all the four great Apostolic galleons; they began to heel over on the mudbank, and from the St Philip there came `tumbling into the sea heaps of soldiers, so thick as if coals had been poured out of a sack ... some drowned and some sticking in the mud.... The spectacle was very lamentable, for many drowned themselves; many, half burnt, leapt into the water; very many hanging by the ropes' ends by the ships sides, under the water even to the lips; many swimming with grievous wounds, stricken under water and put out of their pain; and withal so huge a fire and such tearing of ordnance in the great Philip and the rest, when the fire came to them as, if any man had a desire to see Hell itself, it was there most lively figured. Ourselves spared the lives of all, after the victory; but the Flemings, who did little or nothing in the fight, used merciless slaughter, till they were by myself, and afterward by my Lord Admiral, beaten off."
Sir Richard Grenville's Revenge was thus revenged, as Ralegh had sworn; but his own account shows little enjoyment in it. Horror and pity seem his strongest feelings at the 'very lamentable spectacle'; and it was his long-boats from the Warspite that were the first to be rowed through the flames and blinding black smoke from the kegs of powder exploding on the ruined galleons, to try and rescue such Spaniards as were yet alive.
Can anyone with English ancestry not feel pride in that account? English civility and respect for others is very distinctive and goes back a very long way. One is rather reminded of the way the French starved to death thousands of German prisoners of war immediately after WW2. British forces of course observed the Geneva convention.
Left and Right in Tudor times?
To foreshadow what I am going to spell out later in greater detail, I think that all history shows that Leftists are basically unhappy people with big ego needs -- needs that make them crave attention, praise and -- ultimately -- power. And along with that goes a hatred of any success, recognition, happiness or power in others. And the Leftist aims to exercise power by taking away the liberties and regulating the lives of ordinary people. But if such a Leftist personality does exist, it should have been around for a long time -- far longer than we have had the term "Leftist" for it. I believe that evidence of such personalities does abound in history and that we do see it in the Elizabethan era. Note the following excerpts from a discussion of two of the most powerful politicians in the reign of Elizabeth I -- Sir Walter Ralegh and Elizabeth's Prime Minister -- Robert Cecil:
Cecil's shrinking heart probably allowed him to receive only the unpleasing news of how much he was in Ralegh's debt. 'He worked with a cold fervour for the things of this world,' writes C. V. Wedgwood, 'but he did not love the world at all ... it seemed to him no more than a painful, unrewarding purgatory.'
Ralegh loved the world, and his work in it.
Robert Cecil was Secretary of State as well as Leader of the House of Commons, and made earnest efforts to regulate the private lives of citizens into a neat and tidy pattern. His paternal policy was one that has often since led to disaster. He tried to enforce economy by law; it was 'most necessary' to insist on coarser bread, and thinner beer, and fewer ale-houses, and 'opening hours' for them; they must be closed at least one day a week (as in the modern 'Six Day Licence') and then, so he argued, people would grow more food. Sheep-grazing was also wrong, and must be replaced by crops of hemp and corn; though as he added, 'in these last few wet years', their deaths might as reasonably be blamed on the weather. Cecil's piety failed to convince some of the M.P.s that men should be 'compelled by penalties', as one complained, to grow the regulation amounts of wheat and hemp, etc.
Francis Bacon's outstanding intellect came to Cecil's help with heavily embroidered eloquence. This would be a 'law tending to God's honour'....
By contrast with Bacon's incomprehensible rhetoric, Ralegh's forthright attack on the bill is startling. His pungent rejoinders made short work of the Government's high-flown theories. The practical knowledge he had gained as a child on his father's farm had shown him at first hand how absurd it was to try to legislate for land without experience of it. And there was something at stake more important to him even than the land -- and that was individual liberty. 'I do not like this constraining of men to manure or use their ground at our wills; let every man use it to that which it is most fit for, and use his own discretion.' Let Parliament set corn and hemp at liberty, 'and leave every man free, which is the desire of a true Englishman'.
He won over the whole House. They shouted 'Away with the bill!' and persistently rejected it, though the Government pushed it twice to a division.
Ralegh, that 'liberal-minded independent',' also [opposed] the bills to enforce a right religion. There was one against the Sect of Brownists, whom he had agreed gravely were `worthy to be rooted out of any commonwealth'. But just how, demanded the uncompromising realist, were they to set about rooting them out? (`I am sorry for it, I believe there be ten or twelve thousand of them in England.') If by banishment, who was to pay their transport, and to where? And who was to maintain their wives and families? And did the House really know what exactly the Brownists were, even after a Committee had been locked in by Cecil to study a book of their Articles of Belief? They should be judged, Ralegh insisted, only by their acts, not by their opinions. Like his Queen, he would not admit to anyone the right to set up `window to peer into men's souls'.
His loathing of such spiritual tyranny helped to cut out the cruellest measures of repression. It was expressed again, in terms of sheer hard common sense, against the new bill to make church attendance compulsory, and the church-wardens act as informers to the J.P.s. With the brisk logic of mathematics, Ralegh pointed out that if there were only two offenders in each parish, their sum total, together with the church-wardens, would add four hundred and eighty persons to every quartersessions, and `what great multitudes-what quarrelling and danger may happen, besides giving authority to a mean churchwarden'.
In matters more vital it was Ralegh's voice more than any that persistently championed the poor. He attacked with open scorn the meanness of rich men who called it good policy to squeeze the pockets of the poor and oppress their liberties.
He championed the humble housewife as keenly as he did his sovereign lady, and more dangerously for himself. Robert Cecil spoke in patriotic praise of the news that 'some poor people were selling their pots and pans to pay the subsidy.... Neither pots nor pans, nor dish nor spoon should be spared', he announced unctuously. He was sure it would have an excellent effect on the King of Spain when he heard 'how willing we are to sell all in defence of God's religion', etc. His listeners applauded this noble sentiment. It has a hollow echo coming from a man who had made a large fortune, as Master of the Wards
His complacent eagerness to sacrifice the household goods of poor folk was backed by Bacon. The poor ought to be taxed as heavily as the rich: because, as he quoted in Latin, it was a right and 'sweet course to pull together in an equal yoke'.
This smug hypocrisy brought Ralegh to his feet. 'Call you this an equal yoke, when a poor man pays as much as a rich? His estate may be no better than he is assessed at, while our estates are entered as o30 or o40 in the Queen's books -- not the hundredth part of our wealth!' His outrageous frankness over this unfair advantage given to his own class, shocked his opponents. His final blow demolished them: 'It is neither sweet nor equal.'
(Quoted from p. 136 - 138 of That Great Lucifer: A portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh by Margaret Irwin [Bungay, Suffolk: Reprint Society, 1960])
So we see that, even back then, it was the conservative defender of individual liberty (Ralegh) who was -- as conservatives have always claimed -- the true champion and helper of the poor. While the power-mad control freaks such as the scheming Cecil and the intellectual Bacon had no real concern for the poor at all. Nothing has changed.
And in another very modern touch, Queen Elizabeth ended her reign by announcing a big tax cut (by abolishing government-granted monopolies) -- to much popular acclaim (p. 158). Big tax-cutters such as Thatcher and Reagan thus have a most respected and successful predecessor in English history.
But the Tudors did not last forever and when the Stuarts, with their doctrine of "the divine right of Kings", ignored treasured English liberties and tried to turn the English monarchy into something more like a centralized Oriental despotism, off came the head of the Stuart King.
And note that the attitude of the Scottish Stuarts towards the relationship between the individual and the State differed from traditional English views from the very outset. Note this report of an incident on the initial journey to London of James I:
He ordered a pickpocket to be hanged straight away without trial. The prudish English were too dainty for 'Jedburgh justice', which hanged Border robbers out of hand. They muttered tiresome objections about their Common Law, and Sir John Harington, that privileged wag, proclaimed loudly: 'If the new King hangs a man before he is tried, will he then try a man before he has offended?'
(Quoted from p. 172 of That Great Lucifer: A portrait of Sir Walter Ralegh by Margaret Irwin [Bungay, Suffolk: Reprint Society, 1960])
A Conservative Revolution
The English parliamentarians who were responsible for beheading King Charles I in 1649 were perfectly articulate about why. They felt that Charles had attempted to destroy the ancient English governmental system or "constitution" and that he had tried to take away important rights and individual liberties that the English had always enjoyed -- liberty from the arbitrary power of Kings, a right to representation in important decisions and a system of counterbalanced and competing powers rather than an all-powerful central government. It is to them that we can look for the first systematic statements of what we now call conservative ideals -- ideals that persevere to this day. And they were both conservatives (wishing to conserve traditional rights and arrangements) and revolutionaries!
So right back in the 17th century we had the apparent paradox of "conservatives" (the parliamentary leaders -- later to be referred to as "Whigs") being prepared to undertake most radical change (deposing monarchy) in order to restore treasured traditional rights and liberties and to rein in overweening governmental power. So Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were not at all breakaways from the conservatism of the past. They had very early and even more determined predecessors. Nobody who knew history should have been surprised by the Reagan/Thatcher "revolution".
And it was in deliberate tribute to the parliamentarians of Cromwell's day and their immediate successors that two of the most influential conservative theorists prior to Reagan and Thatcher both described themselves as "Old Whigs" -- Burke (1790) and Hayek (1944). Hayek described Whig ideals as "the only set of ideals that has consistently opposed all arbitrary power" (Hayek, 1960).
And it is not only conservative theorists who still see overweening government power as their bete noir. Even practical conservative politicians do. Note this excellent statement of the conservative mission from one of America's most notable conservative politicians in the second half of the 20th century:
"Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.
Fellow Republicans, it is the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people. And, so help us God, that is exactly what a Republican president will do with the help of a Republican Congress.
It is further the cause of Republicanism to restore a clear understanding of the tyranny of man over man in the world at large. It is our cause to dispel the foggy thinking which avoids hard decisions in the illusion that a world of conflict will somehow mysteriously resolve itself into a world of harmony, if we just don't rock the boat or irritate the forces of aggression - and this is hogwash.
And who said that? It is from the acceptance speech by Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican convention which nominated him as its candidate for President.
So, for over three centuries, the central values of conservatism -- at least in the English-speaking world -- have remained the same.
Just to reinforce the point, note this summary from a speechwriter for one Richard Milhous Nixon:
Richard Nixon kicked off his historic comeback in 1966 with a column on the South (by this writer) that declared we would build our Republican Party on a foundation of states' rights, human rights, small government, and a strong national defense, and leave it to the "party of Maddox, Mahoney, and Wallace to squeeze the last ounces of political juice out of the rotting fruit of racial injustice."
The words of another well-known American conservative, Patrick Buchanan. Mahoney and Wallace were of course Southern Democrats. And Nixon subsequently swept the polls for the Republicans with a 49 State landslide. His conservative policies were popular even if his subsequent Machiavellianism was not.
And Nixon in fact was a rather good example of how conservatives are NOT automatically in favour of the status quo but DO promote individual liberty where they think they reasonably can. Nixon abolished conscription and instituted an all volunteer army DESPITE conscription being a long established policy, one that had been in place since FDR. And Nixon did it during a war and against considerable opposition from the military! If conservatives are supposed to support the status quo, nobody told Nixon.
And another old warrior of American conservatism, W.F. Buckley says: "The conservative instinctively rejects collectivization": A pretty useful short definition.
Last but not least however, let us listen to the man who was arguably the most loved conservative of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan:
Isn't our choice really not one of left or right, but of up or down? Down through the welfare state to statism, to more and more government largesse accompanied always by more government authority, less individual liberty and, ultimately, totalitarianism, always advanced as for our own good. The alternative is the dream conceived by our Founding Fathers, up to the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with an orderly society. We don't celebrate dependence day on the Fourth of July. We celebrate Independence Day.
From his 1984 speech accepting the Republican Presidential nomination. Individual liberty versus government authority was clearly the conservative message to the great conservative communicator. And he had the same message in his farewell speech as President. He makes it clear there that there is just ONE thing he stood for above all: Individual liberty. Some excerpts:
"And in all of that time I won a nickname, "The Great Communicator." But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation - from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in principles that have guided us for two centuries.... Almost all the world's constitutions are documents in which governments tell the people what their privileges are. Our Constitution is a document in which "We the people" tell the government what it is allowed to do. "We the people" are free. This belief has been the underlying basis for everything I've tried to do these past eight years.... I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There's a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.... We've got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It's fragile; it needs protection".
It is sometimes held that Reagan transformed American conservatism but we see that Reagan himself says that he simply reasserted America's founding values -- values that the early Americans inherited from their English past.
Other conservative voices in history
Showing a cleavage that moves all the way from Cromwell to Nixon, Goldwater and Reagan is surely impressive but it does leave out a great deal of history in between. So let us also look briefly at some of the intervening history:
To quote one history (Roberts, 1958) of the earliest English Tories (Conservative Party):
"The principles of Tory paternalism do not lend themselves to effective legislation or improved administration. Coleridge, the most profound and influential of these theorists, looked to the moral regeneration of the individual, not to the reforming State, and he envisaged the Church of England as the head of a paternalistic society. He despised what he called "act of Parliament reforms", and he exalted the Church as much as he feared the State."
Again in Roberts (1958) we read of a slightly later period:
"Only State aid to all voluntary schools could extend education, but the Tories would not tolerate State intervention in a sphere reserved for the Church. In a grandiloquent speech to the Commons, Disraeli played deftly on this deep jealousy of the State. He raised the spectre of a centralized despotism comparable to those which oppressed China, Persia and Austria, and sombrely warned that the grant would force a return "to the system of a barbarous age, the system of a paternal government".
So dislike of State intervention has long been a prominent theme (though not of course the only theme) among conservatives. Nor do we have to go so far back in history to come up with instances of this sort. Two notable quotations that might be referred to for further reading are by the eminent British Conservative Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and by the noted Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott (See Buck, 1975 p.139-141 and p. 154 as a convenient reference for the detailed texts of both statements). Although both statements were made long before the Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev era, both stress how important to Conservatism is the limiting of State power and activity -- though neither of course limits the concerns of Conservatives to that one theme.
Note the following from a pre-election radio broadcast by Winston Churchill on June 4th., 1945:
"My friends, I must tell you that a Socialist policy is abhorrent to the British ideas of freedom. Although it is now put forward in the main by people who have a good grounding in the Liberalism and Radicalism of the early part of this century, there can be no doubt that Socialism is inseparably interwoven with Totalitarianism and the abject worship of the State. It is not alone that property, in all its forms, is struck at; but that liberty, in all its forms, is challenged by the fundamental conceptions of Socialism."
V.I. Lenin did not really disagree. He said: "The scientific concept of dictatorship means nothing else but this: power without limit, resting directly upon force, restrained by no laws, absolutely unrestricted by rules."
And Friedrich Engels had similar views:
"Revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon" (from his controversy with the Anarchists).
And now for the psychology!
The rather obvious insight from Karl Marx's collaborator quoted above -- which associates authoritarianism with Leftism -- seems to have been totally overlooked by psychologists. This is rather surprising when we realize that the tradition of research into psychological authoritarianism traces back to that immensely influential book among psychologists -- The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford (1950). And the leading author (Adorno) of the study concerned was a prominent Marxist theoretician! One might have thought that a Marxist would have made the quotation mentioned central to his discussion of authoritarianism.
This overlooking of the obvious by the Adorno team was however symptomatic of their whole approach. Apparently, as committed Leftists, they wanted to explain Nazism and Fascism in a way that discredited Rightists rather than Leftists. But the theoretical convolutions required for that were from the outset truly heroic -- considering that Hitler was a socialist rather than a conservative, considering that Mussolini was a prominent Marxist theoretician, considering that Stalin had been a willing ally of Hitler as long as Hitler wanted him and considering that Hitler's most unrelenting enemy was no Leftist but the arch-Conservative Winston Churchill.
Or as Ludwig von Mises wrote in 1944: "The Nazis have not only imitated the Bolshevist tactics of seizing power. They have copied much more. They have imported from Russia the one-party system and the privileged role of this party and its members in public life; the paramount position of the secret police; the organization of affiliated parties abroad which are employed in fighting their domestic governments and in sabotage and espionage, assisted by public funds and the protection of the diplomatic and consular service; the administrative execution and imprisonment of political adversaries; concentration camps; the punishment inflicted on the families of exiles; the methods of propaganda. They have borrowed from the Marxians even such absurdities as the mode of address, party comrade (Parteigenosse), derived from the Marxian comrade (Genosse), and the use of a military terminology for all items of civil and economic life. The question is not in which respects both systems are alike but in which they differ..."
And Hayek had it right long ago too: "Hayek's challenge was to argue that German Nazism was not an aberrant "right-wing" perversion growing out of the "contradictions" of capitalism. Instead, the Nazi movement had developed out of the "enlightened" and "progressive" socialist and collectivist ideas of the pre-World War I era, which many intellectuals in England and the United States had praised and propagandized for in their own countries."
From history, then, the obvious conclusion is that Nazism was simply a racist form of Leftism (Ray, 2002b). How can one make that harmful to conservatives?
But the Adorno group managed their self-imposed and unlikely task after a fashion and the basic conclusions that they produced (that "authoritarianism" underlay Nazism, that authoritarianism also underlies conservatism and that authoritarianism is a "disease") were therefore hardly surprising. Only the generally Left-leaning orientation of social scientists, however, can explain why such a historically and theoretically ridiculous work turned out to be enormously popular and influential among social scientists generally.
Regrettably, however, we have known since Galileo that the popularity of a belief is no guarantee of its truth. And The Authoritarian Personality must hold some sort of record for the amount of criticism and disconfirmatory research that it has attracted. There are various summaries of this body of criticism but the first half of Altemeyer's (1981) book and Ray (1988) give a pretty good idea of it. And what the various criticisms have repeatedly shown is that only the most trivially true contentions of the Adorno theory survive the encounter with empirical testing. The most basic postulates of the theory are just plain wrong.
It must be noted, however, that I am speaking here only of research that sets out to test elements of the Adorno theory. Most research into the Adorno theory reported in the psychological literature assumes the truth of the theory and so the authors concerned tend to fit whatever they find into the theory, by hook or by crook (Ray, 1989 & 1990). And most writers who cite the Adorno work show little or no awareness that there have ever been any serious criticisms of it.
So how do we explain that? How can an extensively disconfirmed theory still be widely accepted and referred to uncritically?
The obvious answer is that psychologists are like people generally: They believe what they want to believe and what it suits them to believe. And facts that run counter to that belief are simply not seen.
But there is more to it than that. It also seems to be true that bad theories are driven out not by disconfirmatory evidence but by better theories. And there has been a clear lack of alternative theories to explain the origins of psychological authoritarianism. The present paper aims therefore to present just such an alternative and hopefully better theory. Ironically, however, the conclusions of the alternative theory are just about the mirror-image of the original theory.
Politics and political psychologists
As we have seen, ideas about authoritarianism have been intimately bound up with politics. So our understanding of what politics is all about is crucial to our understanding of authoritarianism. And it has long been my contention that the discussion of authoritarianism among psychologists has suffered from a lack of interdisciplinary sophistication. Psychologists generally give the impression of knowing little about the history of politics. So an essential first step in understanding what psychological authoritarianism is and how it interacts with authoritarianism in politics is to get our understanding of politics straight.
But that is not an easy task. Political studies are arguably as large a field as is psychology and to blend the two is no easy task. And political studies are arguably also much more fractious than psychology. There is little by way of a convenient consensus that a psychologist can latch onto to use for his/her own purposes. So any well-informed discussion of psychological authoritarianism also has to be a discussion not only of political authoritarianism but also of politics and political history generally. And that large task the present paper attempts in at least an outline way.
And an essential task is surely to make sure that we have got straight what is meant by terms such as "Leftist", "conservative" etc.
Coralling the "status quo" dragon
The popular press refer to Communists in present day Russia as "conservatives". Yet "conservative" would once have been taken as the antithesis of "Communist". And anyone inferring that conservatives in the USA must also therefore harbour a longing for Stalinism would be rapidly disabused of the notion.
Underlying this confusion is of course the old equation of conservatism with a love of the "status quo" and a dislike of change and new arrangements. Journalists still implicitly use that hoary formula and, in consequence, quite reasonably refer to both Communists in Russia and anti-Communists in the USA as "conservative". Relative to the different traditions of their respective countries both groups do favour traditional values or the "status quo ante bellum" ("the state which existed before the war" -- to spell the term out fully).
Clearly, however, modern times have thoroughly upset the notion that political Rightists are principally motivated by a love of the status quo. There are political parties in Russia that have similar goals and policies to what we would call the Right in the USA and in other Western countries yet they are clearly heavily reformist in a Russian context rather than defenders of the old Soviet status quo. And in the West as well, the Reagan/Thatcher "revolution" has made Rightists the big advocates of change and cast Leftists into the role of defending the status quo. At this juncture, the obvious conclusion is to say that the status quo clearly now has nothing to do with whether one is a Leftist or a Rightist -- or, more precisely, with what would once always have been called a Leftist or a Rightist in the USA and other Western countries. Whether one advocates change or not will simply reflect whether or not one is satisfied with existing arrangements. Rightists will advocate change in order to tear down welfarism and liberate business and Leftists will advocate change to extend welfare and restrict big business. The status quo, then, no longer has any role in defining one particular side of politics.
Where the dragon hails from
But is that satisfactory? Has everything changed so much overnight? Rightists are still Rightists and Leftists are still Leftists and the Left/Right divisions has been associated for so long with attitude to the status quo that there surely must be something still behind that association. Surely attitude to the status quo cannot have had for so long a defining role and then suddenly vanish from relevance overnight. Can we not salvage something from the traditional view of politics? It is one purpose of the present paper to suggest that there IS still some sense and meaning in the former view.
The suggested solution to the puzzle is to turn the traditional understanding on its head. It is suggested that attitude to change versus the status quo defines the political Left rather than the political Right of the Western world. It is not conservatives who are FOR the status quo but rather Leftists who are AGAINST it.
Note that this implies that the two sides of politics are not always mirror-images of one another. It is suggested that Rightists are simply indifferent to change rather than opposed to it whereas Leftists actively need change. Leftists and Rightists have different rather than opposite goals.
This broad idea that what Leftists basically want does not have to be the exact opposite of what Rightists basically want -- and vice versa -- may seem at first surprising but does have some precedents. Kerlinger (1967) suggested that Leftists and Rightists have different "criterial referents" and even thought that he had found in his survey research a complete lack of opposition between Leftist and Rightist attitudes. Kerlinger's reasoning is interesting but that he misinterpreted his research results has previously been shown in Ray (1980 & 1982). Whether Leftist and Rightist objectives are opposite or just simply different, how Leftists and Rightists go about achieving their different basic objectives certainly generates plenty of conflict and opposition between the two sides.
Whatever Rightists might want, however, wanting to change the existing system is the umbrella under which all "Western" Leftists at all times meet. Even at the long-gone heights of British socialism in pre-Thatcher days, for instance, British Leftists still wanted MORE socialism. That permanent and corrosive dissatisfaction with the world they live in is the main thing that defines people as Leftists. That is the main thing that they have in common. They are extremely fractious and even murderous towards one-another otherwise (e.g. Stalin versus Trotsky). It is in describing his fellow revolutionaries (Kautsky and others) that Lenin himself spoke swingeingly of "the full depth of their stupidity, pedantry, baseness and betrayal of working-class interests" (Lenin, 1952). He could hardly have spoken more contemptuously of the Tsar.
The Rightist, by contrast, generally has no need either for change or its converse. If anything, Rightists favour progress -- both material and social. So when Rightists are conservative (cautious), it is not because of their attitude to change per se. On some occasions they may even agree with the particular policy outcomes that the Leftist claims to desire. When they resist change, then, it is mainly when it appears incautious -- and they are cautious (skeptical of the net benefits of particular policies) generally because of their realism about the limitations (selfishness, folly, shortsightedness, aggressiveness etc.) of many of their fellow humans (Ray, 1972, 1974 & 1981). So it is only vis a vis Leftists that the Right can on some occasions and in some eras appear conservative (cautious about proposals for social change).
In that connection, note this summary (by Owen Harries) of what Edmund Burke -- that most seminal of conservative thinkers -- said: "Far from opposing all reform, Burke insisted, "A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation." The issue was not reform versus no reform; it was between the view that reform was a simple matter that could be engaged in sweepingly and the view that it required prudence and was best approached incrementally". So conservatives have NEVER opposed change per se and it is little more than a calumny to say that they do. Caution certainly characterizes conservatives but attitude to change does not.
But I will say more later about what really motivates conservatives.
Leftists do not of course want just any change. In particular, they want change that tends in the direction of tearing down or drastically revising existing authorities, power structures and social arrangements. And this generally takes the form of advocating greater equality between people. What the Leftist ultimately wants in this direction however is fairly heroic in its dimensions and unlikely ever to be fully achieved in at least contemporary Western societies so the Leftist always has a corrosive discontent with the world he lives in and therefore is permanently in a position of wanting change from the way things are. And since any change that Rightists want is in an entirely different direction, the Rightist is commonly cast into the position of the opponent of change. So it is only insofar as the Leftist is in sole charge of the agenda that the Rightist is truly a conservative (opponent of change).
Needless to say, the now blatant failure of Communism and Socialism worldwide -- failures both in humanity and economics -- has now removed the Leftist from that privileged position vis a vis the political agenda and the sort of change that is most to be seen on at least the economic agenda these days is change in a Rightist direction -- which now commonly casts the Leftist into the role of opponent of change.
But, despite that, in the end it was the Leftist's hunger for big changes in society, even revolutionary change, that, from the French revolution onwards, made attitude to change an important differentiator of both people and political parties.
Leftists in Power
This article embodies an endeavour fairly characteristic of modern Anglo-American analytical philosophy (Hospers, 1967): An endeavour to analyse and make coherent the way terms like "Leftist", "Liberal", "Socialist", "Communist" etc are commonly used. Once an underlying focus for such terms had been "discovered", the psychology underlying that focus was considered. The analysis was however principally of what Leftism/liberalism is in the economically advanced countries of the contemporary "Western" world -- where Leftists have only ever had partial success in implementing their programmes. So what happens when Leftists get fully into power? Does the same analysis apply?
For a start, it should be obvious that the personality and goals of the Leftist do not change just because he gets into power. He is still the same person. And that this is true is certainly very clear in the case of Lenin -- who is surely the example par excellence of a Leftist who very clearly did get into power. In his post-revolutionary philippic against his more idealistic revolutionary comrades, Lenin (1952) makes very clear that "absolute centralization and the strictest discipline of the proletariat" are still in his view essential features of the new regime. He speaks very much like the authoritarian dictator that he was but is nonetheless being perfectly consistent with the universal Leftist wish for strong government power and control over the population -- but only as long as Leftists are in charge. So Leftists in power certainly do NOT cause the State to "wither away" -- as Marx uninsightfully foresaw in "The Communist Manifesto".
Obviously, Leftists in power also cease to want change. Aside from their focus on industrialization, change in the Soviet Union was glacial and any institutional change or change in the locus or nature of political power was ferociously resisted. Clearly then, although destruction of the status quo is an important goal for Leftists, it is only an INTERMEDIATE or instrumental goal. So if a clamour for change is characteristic of Leftists in the "West" but not characteristic when Leftists attain full power, what are the real, underlying motives of Leftism?
That question can be answered on a number of levels. The normal answer given by Leftists themselves, of course, is that existing societies are unjust -- where justice is defined as everybody getting more or less equal economic rewards and access to power regardless of anything that they might do or not do. This however just leads to the further questions of why the Leftist is concerned about justice and why does he define justice in such a simplistic way?
Generally speaking, the answer to that is a simple and obvious one: The Leftist voter is in a disadvantaged position relative to the society in which he lives and so would benefit from a more equal distribution of society's resources.
But not all Leftists are in that position. From Marx and Engels onwards, the more vocal and prominent Leftists have tended in fact to be from relatively privileged backgrounds. What motivates such "ideological" Leftists? Much of what follows will be taken up with some suggestions about that. It would be foolish to propose that only one thing could lead to a Leftist orientation so several theories are put forward with the view that any one or perhaps more than one could explain the orientation of any given individual.
The theory that would seem to have the widest explanatory power is that Leftist advocacy serves ego needs. It is submitted here that the major psychological reason why Leftists so zealously criticize the existing order and advocate change is in order to feed a pressing need for self-inflation and ego-boosting -- and ultimately for power, the greatest ego boost of all. They need public attention; they need to demonstrate outrage; they need to feel wiser and kinder and more righteous than most of their fellow man. They fancy for themselves the heroic role of David versus Goliath. They need to show that they are in the small club of the virtuous and the wise so that they can nobly instruct and order about their less wise and less virtuous fellow-citizens. Their need is a pressing need for attention, for self-advertisement and self-promotion -- generally in the absence of any real claims in that direction. They are people who need to feel important and who are aggrieved at their lack of recognition and power. One is tempted to hypothesize that, when they were children, their mothers didn't look when they said, "Mummy, look at me".
This means that the "warm inner glow" that they obtain from their advocacy and agitation is greatly prized. So it is no wonder that inconvenient facts -- such as scientific findings about the overwhelming influence of human heredity or historical truths about the brutality of all of the many Communist regimes the world had in the 20th century -- are determinedly ignored. This view of Leftism as a club of the righteous that must never be disturbed or threatened is explored in detail by Warby (2002).
And, of course, people who themselves desperately want power, attention and praise envy with a passion those who already have that. Businessmen, "the establishment", rich people, upper class people, powerful politicians and anybody who helps perpetuate the existing order in any way are seen by the Leftist as obstacles to him having what he wants. They are all seen as automatically "unworthy" compared to his own great virtues and claims on what they already have. "Why should they have ........ ?" is the Leftist's implicit cry -- and those who share that angry cry have an understanding of one-another that no rational argument could achieve and that no outsider can ever share.
The Leftist's passion for equality is really therefore only apparently a desire to lift the disadvantaged up. In reality it is a hatred of all those in society who are already in a superior or more powerful position to the Leftist and a desire to cut them down to size.
Envy is a very common thing and most of us have probably at some time envied someone but, for someone with the Leftist's strong ego needs, envy becomes a hatred and a consuming force that easily accounts for the ferocious brutality of Communist movements and the economically destructive policies (such as punitively high taxation, price controls and over-regulation generally) employed by Leftists in resolutely democratic societies.
So the economic destruction and general impoverishment typically brought about by Leftists is not as irrational as it at first seems. The Leftist actually wants that. Making others poorer is usually an infinitely higher priority for him than doing anybody any good. One suspects that most individual Leftists realize that no revolution or social transformation is ever going to put them personally into a position of wealth or power so the destruction of the wealth and power and satisfaction of those who already have it must be the main thing they hope to get out of supporting Leftist politics. For a fuller account of the enormously destructive nature of envy see Schoeck (1969).
Whether or not someone is important, rich, successful, famous, poweful etc., is however of course very much a matter of individual perception. This "relativity" of importance, prestige etc. would seem to explain why many active Leftists are in fact college or university professors. College or university professor is a generally high status occupation that provides an above-average income so might, on the face of it, be seen as already providing considerable recognition and praise. But if status is precisely why certain people have gone to the considerable trouble generally required to enter that occupation, it could well be that the ego need of that person is so big that even more recognition is then craved. A college professorship may be prestigious but still be seen as providing far too little power, public exposure and opportunity for self-display. "Seeing I am so smart, I should be running the whole show", is an obvious line of thought for such people. Just some power and fame is still not enough power and fame for them.
Such great egotism and hunger for power and attention does of course make a mockery of the Leftist's claim to be in favour of equality. Like the pigs in George Orwell's "Animal farm", the Leftist wants to be "more equal than others". He wants to rule or at least dominate. Beneath his deceptive rhetoric, he is the ultimate elitist. He actually despises most of his fellow men and thinks that only he and his clique are fit to run everything. The last thing he wants is to be lost in a sea of equal people.
And nothing above, of course, is meant to suggest that pressing ego needs, self-righteousness etc are confined to Leftists. It is merely meant to say that Leftism is the principal political expression of such needs. Such needs can also be met by religion etc. and it must be noted that Communism was often described as a religion by its critics. Why people choose politics rather than some other means of meeting their ego needs would have to be the subject of a whole new enquiry but it seems possible that the potentially very broad exposure that politics provides to an individual might attract the people with the very highest ego needs. This high level of ego need among Leftists would also explain the generally much greater political activism of the political Left compared to the generally rather somnolent political Right.
It would also explain why Leftists so often have a "spare me the details" or "Don't worry about the facts" orientation. For most Leftists, it is the activism itself rather than what is advocated that is the main point of the exercise. As long as the cause advocated is both generally praiseworthy and disruptive to implement, that will suffice. If the Leftist cannot have power, praise and attention are the next best thing from a Leftist's point of view.
The need for self-display does however in MOST people tend to decline as they mature -- which is part of the reason why graduates tend to be less radical than students and why older people tend to be much more conservative than young people (Ray, 1985). To misquote Lenin (1952) only slightly, much of Leftism would appear to be "an infantile disorder".
Another psychological motivation for Leftism that is sometimes mentioned (e.g. Levite, 1998) is one that seems on the face of it rather dubious: Guilt. The claim is that affluent people feel bad (guilty) when they see how poorly others are doing and want to rectify that by getting handouts for the disadvantaged (but not from their own pockets of course). This could be mere Leftist persiflage: Leftists may sometimes explain their motives in such a high-minded way but if they really felt guilty it would seem that there is plenty they could do to help others rather than agitating for higher taxes.
The undoubted fact that Left activists (from the Bolsheviks on) tend to come from affluent families does not necessarily point to guilt as their motive. It could show that those who have all that they want materially then seek other luxuries: such as excitement, self-righteousness, praise and power -- particularly excitement in the case of "rich kid" Leftists. And if you can have praise and self-righteousness along with your excitement what a good deal it is! It is much the same motivation that causes self-made rich men (such as Microsoft's Bill Gates) to become highly philanthropic. Bill Gates has power and wealth so he now seeks praise and righteousness.
Other Causes of Leftism
There are, however, many other possible reasons for Leftism. Some that appear related to the prime motivation (ego need) given initially above would appear to be:
Some Leftists just think themselves clever for being able to criticize.
Some Leftists are simply cynical opportunists who see opportunity for themselves in change.
Some Leftists are simply hiding their real hatred of their fellow man in a cloak of good intentions. They want to hurt their fellow man but need to change the system (a "revolution") to get the opportunity of doing so.
The more "revolutionary" and Trotskyite Left often use the word "smash" in their slogans (e.g. smash racism, smash capitalism, smash various political leaders) so it seems probable that some Leftists simply lust to smash things. They seek a socially acceptable excuse for their barely suppressed destructive urges. They presumably are the ones who are responsible for the violence and destruction that often accompanies Leftist street and campus demonstrations. Violent change is what they are interested in. Presumably, in another time and place, many of them would have joined Hitler's Brownshirts.
But not all motivations for Leftism are as discreditable as the ones given above. Among the more sincere motivations for Leftism would be:
Some are genuinely outraged by things that they do not understand and are unwise enough to want to change those things willy nilly. In particular, they may be genuinely grieved by the unhappy experiences of others and want to fix that ASAP without being wise enough to seek for means of fixing it that have some prospect of working or that are not self-defeating. They might, for instance, be disturbed by the impact of rising rents on the poor and propose rent-control as a quick-fix solution -- though a few minutes of thought or the most elementary inquiry should tell them that rent control will after a time also have the effect of degrading and shrinking the existing stock of rental accomodation and drying up the supply of new rental accomodation, both of which make the poor much worse off in the long run.
The Leftist may still be young and unaware of most of life's complexities so that the drastically simple "solutions" and mantras proffered by the Left simply seem reasonable. Leftism has the appeal of simplicity.
Some, again particularly the young, are idealists who find the imperfect state of the real world unsatisfying. That there is some genuine idealism even among extreme Leftists is shown by the exoduses from Communist Parties in the economically successful "Western" democracies that followed the violent Soviet suppression of the East German, Hungarian and Czechoslovak uprisings against Communist rule in 1953, 1956 and 1968. Once the real nature of Communist regimes became too clear to be denied, honest decent people whose wishful thinking had led them to believe Communist protestations of benevolence and good intentions saw the light and abandoned Communism. In the USA (in New York particularly), some liberal intellectuals even saw enough in the Soviet actions of those times to cause them to abandon "liberalism" and found neo-conservatism. Similarly in Australia of the 1950s and '60s, the Andersonian libertarians of Sydney were also intellectuals who might otherwise have been Leftists but who were united by realism about Soviet brutality.
Some Leftists know that they themselves are weird by general social standards so preach change towards greater tolerance for all weirdness out of sheer self-interest. As George Orwell said in "The road to Wigan pier": "There is the horrible -- the really disquieting -- prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words 'socialism' and 'communism' draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex maniac, Quaker, 'nature-cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England."
Leftism works as a religion for atheists. There would appear to be a strong inborn need for religion in human beings. Even in the present skeptical, scientific and materialistic age about half of all Americans are churchgoers and years of indoctrination into atheism by the Communists seem to have left the Church stronger than ever in Russia and Poland. And even among those with no formal religious affiliations, very few are outright atheists. So Leftism could be seen as a Godless religion -- something that meets the religious needs of those who for various reasons are dissatisfied either with other religions or with supernatural ideas in general. Not all religions have a dominant God or father-figure at their centre (e.g. Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto) and a religion that dispenses with the supernatural altogether does not therefore seem impossibly paradoxical. The identification of Leftism as a religion is very commonly made and the ability to believe in things that sound good but have very little supportive evidence would certainly seem to constitute a common core between Leftism and other religions. Both Leftists and the religious could, in other words, be seen as the wishful thinkers of the world: A very large throng. And, as a religion originally emanating from the economically successful "Western" democracies, Leftism is typical in being very proselytizing and intolerant of competing religions.
Another reason for Leftism that seems worth considering comes from biological theory. If there can be sociological and psychological explanations for Leftism, why not biological ones too? Martin & Jardine (1986) and Eaves, Heath, Martin, Meyer & Corey (1999) have reported strong genetic heritability for political orientation so the possibility of a biological explanation must be taken seriously. A possible biological or evolutionary explanation would be that Leftism is a remnant of the primitive hunter-gatherer in us. A liking for change might have been highly adaptive among hunter-gatherers because it caused them to wander around the landscape more and thus exposed them to a greater diversity of food-sources. Some support for this is the strong tradition, still occasionally observable today, for Australian Aborigines to want to "go walkabout" (leave their current environment) from time to time. Australian Aborigines were, of course, a purely hunter-gatherer people before the coming of the white man.
Against this view, however, one must put the fact that hunter gatherer societies in general seem to be characterized more by changelessness than anything else. In hunter-gatherer tribes the same things are done in the same way for generation after generation. It could be however that a changeless environment usually prevents significant change in practices regardless of any desire for change. The corollary of this explanation, of course, is that a conservative orientation has been selected for by the requirements of civilization: People who are psychologically settled are needed to make civilization work.
A final possibility among the more creditable motivations for Leftism locates the appeal of Leftism solely in its usual stress on equality. The French Leftist Todd (1985) has put forward anthropological evidence to suggest that Leftism has strong appeal only in countries where child-rearing practices stress equality of treatment between siblings. Thus Russia showed easy acceptance of Communism because Russian parents normally go to great length to treat all their children equally -- particularly by dividing up inheritances (property) equally. Whereas Britain has only ever had a tiny Communist party because of the traditional English practice of primogeniture -- where the eldest son gets almost all of the inherited property. English child-rearing practices have never had a devotion to treating siblings equally so the English do not usually expect or hope for equality of property distribution in later life. So your attraction to the dream of equality may reflect a childhood where parents imposed a rule of equality. Because of your childhood experiences, equality seems emotionally "right", regardless of its practicality.
Note however, that the work by Martin & Jardine (1986) and Eaves, Heath, Martin, Meyer & Corey (1999) showing that Leftism is to a very considerable extent genetically transmitted rather than learnt militates against this as a general explanation for Leftism. Explanations of Leftism in terms of personality variables -- such as strong ego-need -- do not encounter this objection as the strong genetic transmission of personality characteristics has often been demonstrated (e.g. Lake, Eaves, Maes, Heath & Martin, 2000).
So what are Rightists?
Now that I have made my attempt to define and explain what Leftism is, I think I need to say explicitly what I think Rightism is. If Leftism and Rightism are NOT mirror-images, as this article asserts, some such account is necessary in order to complete the picture. As my discussion of history foreshadowed, however, my proposal is simply that those who are called conservatives in modern times are simply a continuation of all those who -- under various names -- have in the past stood for individual liberty against the power of big government
In the late 20th century, it was a common rhetorical ploy of the more "revolutionary" Left in the "Western" world simply to ignore democracy as an alternative to Communism. Instead they would excuse the brutalities of Communism by pointing to the brutalities of the then numerous military dictatorships of Southern Europe and Latin America and pretend that such regimes were the only alternative to Communism. These regimes were led by generals who might in various ways be seen as conservative (though Argentina's Peron was clearly Leftist) so do they tell us anything about conservatism generally?
Historically, most of the world has been ruled by military men and their successors (Sargon II of Assyria, Alexander of Macedon, Caesar, Augustus, Constantine, Charlemagne, Frederick II of Prussia etc.) so it seems unlikely but perhaps the main point to note here is that the Hispanic dictatorships of the 20th century were very often created as a response to a perceived threat of a Communist takeover. This is particularly clear in the case of Spain, Chile and Argentina. They were an attempt to fight fire with fire. In Argentina of the 60s and 70s, for instance, Leftist "urban guerillas" were very active -- blowing up anyone they disapproved of. The nice, mild, moderate Anglo-Saxon response to such depredations would have been to endure the deaths and disruptions concerned and use police methods to trace the perpetrators and bring them to trial.
Much of the world is more fiery than that, however, and the Argentine generals certainly were. They became impatient with the slow-grinding wheels of democracy and its apparent impotence in the face of the Leftist revolutionaries. They therefore seized power and instituted a reign of terror against the Leftist revolutionaries that was as bloody, arbitrary and indiscriminate as what the Leftists had inflicted. In a word, they used military methods to deal with the Leftist attackers. So the nature of these regimes was only incidentally conservative. What they were was essentially military. We have to range further than the Hispanic generals, therefore, if we are to find out what is quintessentially conservative.
It might be noted, however, that, centuries earlier, the parliamentary leaders of England -- led by Fairfax, Cromwell etc. -- did something similar to what the Hispanic generals of the 20th century did. Faced by an attempt on the part of the Stuart tyrant to abrogate their traditional rights, powers and liberties, they resorted to military means to overthrow the threat. There is no reason to argue that democracy cannot or must not use military means to defend itself or that Leftists or anyone else must be granted exclusive rights to the use of force and violence.
Is love of liberty basic or is there a deeper psychology of conservatism?
It has then been shown that there is large historical precedent for the current conservative preoccupation with individual liberty and it is argued here that a love of personal liberty and its concomitant respect for the individual is a basic value for conservatives. It is reasonable to ask, however, whether this is really FUNDAMENTAL to conservatism. Could there not be a deeper level of motivation that underlies a love of liberty and respect for the individual?
We find one such proposal in the conclusions drawn by some historians of the British Conservative party -- who find a certain realistic, practical and pragmatic outlook as the main enduring characteristics of Conservative thought (Feiling, 1953; Gilmour, 1978; Norton & Aughey, 1981; Standish, 1990) and this is clearly a theory about the wellsprings of conservatism rather than a description of what conservatives have tended to stand for. And it is not at all difficult to see why a realistic view of the ham-fisted and restrictive things that governments characteristically do has led to doubt about the benefits of extending such activities. So we might say that this proposal is that a certain STYLE of thinking leads to a predictable CONTENT in thinking. Or, putting it very broadly, there is a conservative psychology that explains and underlies conservative political positions.
Perhaps I should expand that point: It may be asked whether the contention that realism -- particularly about human nature -- is basic to conservatism is consistent with my contention here to the effect that respect for the individual and a love of personal liberty is basic to conservatism. Which of the two really is basic -- realism or love of liberty? The simple answer is of course that the two are intimately related. If you are realistic about the evil that people individually and people collectively (i.e, governments) often do to one-another, you will want the individual to be as free from outside attentions as possible. Putting it another way, liberty is what conservatives advocate and realism is why they advocate it.
But while the proposals of Feiling, Gilmour and others are perfectly reasonable, they do have a large philosophical problem: How do we define what is realistic, practical and pragmatic? So while I also think that realism is a large part of the psychology underlying a conservative stance and have advocated that view at some length in the past (in the introduction to my book Conservatism as heresy), garnering evidence for its truth is a difficult task and certainly not one that I have found a way to investigate by the normal techniques of psychological research.
I do not think that this leads to any need for great vagueness about what conservatism is at the political level, however, so would reject the view noted by Owen Harries when he says: "In introducing his anthology The Conservative Tradition, R.J. White defensively (or perhaps smugly and archly) claims, "To put conservatism in a bottle with a label is like trying to liquify the atmosphere or give an accurate description of the beliefs of a member of the Anglican Church. The difficulty arises from the nature of the thing. For conservatism is less a political doctrine than a habit of mind, a mode of feeling, a way of living." One must obviously agree with White that the habits of mind and ways of feeling are prior and causative but I do not agree that the political positions they lead to are hard to define.
Another theory for the psychological origins of conservatism is related to the "realism" theory but is a lot less sweeping than it. It is one that is very often quoted and finds its principal exponents in Burke (1790), Hayek (1944) and Oakeshott (1975) -- though the two former thinkers in fact described themselves as "Whigs" rather than as conservatives. This theory also traces policy to a style of thought. The theory basically is that there is an underlying wariness and skepticism in conservatives (particularly about human nature) that makes them question ANY political policies whatever -- including policies that call for change. Conservatives need good evidence that something will work well and have the intended consequences before they will support it. And for this reason conservatives prefer "the devil they know" and want any change to be of a gradual and evolutionary kind -- progressing by small steps that can easily be reversed if the intended outcomes are not realized. And there has never been any doubt that conservatives do indeed think that way. So cynicism and wariness is the motive of conservatives and advocacy of liberty is the political result.
And it is this preference for "the devil they know" that has led to conservatives being caricaturized as wanting NO change when in fact all that they insist on is CAREFUL change. From Cromwell on, conservatives have never been characterized by a rejection of change for its own sake. When a regime is clearly oppressive or an experiment has clearly failed (such as State ownership of industry) conservatives find no difficulty in abandoning it and changing to something else.
But this account of conservatism is insufficient by itself. It fails to ask what the CRITERION is in evaluating change. How do we evaluate whether a policy is beneficial or not? How do we define "beneficial"? And it is in answering that question that we come back to individual liberty as being a core value. Conservatism is a broad church and conservatives will of course use many criteria in evaluating the desirability or efficacy of particular political policies but, in making such evaluations, it is the high value that one gives to leaving the individual free to make his/her own decisions and obtain his/her own preferences that makes one a conservative. Rejection of change can be an INSTRUMENT in protecting the individual but it is no more than that.
One dimension or two?
A big objection that many people will be spluttering to express by now is to say that I have vastly oversimplified matters by accepting the popular division of politics into a single Left/Right divide.
For exactly that reason various authors (e.g. Eysenck, 1954; Rokeach, 1960; Kerlinger, 1967) have proposed that an adequate description of world politics really needs two dimensions. They propose, for example, that the Left-Right dimension be supplemented by an Authoritarian/Permissive dimension. So that democratic Leftists and Rightists are Permissive Leftists and Rightists whereas Communists and Fascists are Authoritarian Leftists and Rightists.
Although such proposals have considerable intuitive appeal, they do not, unfortunately, seem to coincide with how people's attitudes are in fact organized when we do surveys of public opinion. It is very easy to find people's attitudes polarizing on a Left/Right dimension but nobody has yet managed to show in a satisfactory way any polarization of attitudes on the postulated second dimension (Ray, 1980 & 1982).
The account of Left/Right attitudes given in this article suggests why this is so. For a start, the assumption that Fascists or Nazis are Right-wing is false. Hitler himself energetically claimed to be a socialist and Mussolini (the founder of Fascism) was a prominent Marxist theoretician. The evidence for the view that Fascism is simply another Leftist sect has been summarized at great length in Ray (2002 b & c) so will not be further elaborated here.
Historically, the core of conservatism has always been a suspicion of government power and intervention -- and conservatives therefore accept only the minimum amount of government that seems needed for a civil society to function. So it is no wonder that there is no authoritarian version of conservative ideology. If it were authoritarian it could not be conservative.
Leftism, on the other hand, IS intrinsically authoritarian and power-loving and will always therefore tend in the direction of government domination. It is only non-authoritarian to the extent that is thwarted by external influences (such as democracy) from achieving its aims. Leftists in democratic societies do of course commonly deny authoritarian motivations but that is just part of their "cover". Deeds speak louder than words.
Attitude to authority in psychological research
Defining what was meant by "Leftist" and "Rightist" did prove to be a very large trip through history so how does it help with our understanding of political attitudes as studied by psychologists?
What it does is suggest that denial of motives may be an important part of Leftism. The bare fact that Leftists normally deny authoritarian motives while still being quite prone to setting up and supporting regimes where the State monopolizes or substantially monopolizes power is suggestive enough. When, however, we see that the whole point of Leftism is the setting up of such regimes, we clearly have a phenomenon of considerable interest before us. Logically, Leftists should be strong supporters of authoritarianism with Rightists being only weak supporters. The reverse, of course, would appear to be the truth -- at least as far as expressed attitudes are concerned (Adorno et al, 1950).
There may be many ways of explaining this particular puzzle but the kindest one that suggests itself to the present writer is that Leftists who support democracy are in a situation of fundamental conflict. On the one hand they see the value of democracy, civility, human rights, liberty etc while on the other they see that such systems do not by themselves lead to the sort of outcomes that Leftists desire -- i.e. the poor and disadvantaged in such systems tend to stay poor and disadvantaged. People just do not behave in a sufficiently "brotherly" way towards one-another. "So if people will not be brotherly towards one another by themselves we will have to make them more brotherly" seems to be the next step in a Leftist's thought. Such a thought is, however, very authoritarian and completely at odds with all the civilities and respect for human rights of a modern-day democracy and to admit to it would entail an admission of complete incoherence of thought. As a result all expressions of attraction to anything authoritarian are, consciously or unconsciously, quite thoroughly inhibited and denied. This is so much so that even reasonable admissions of the desirability of authority in certain circumstances get suppressed.
We are thus left with the rather odd situation where the Rightist who is generally averse to authority in government but who can see that there are some things to be said for it in some circumstances is prepared to admit the ways in which it can be desirable while the Leftist who very much wants to expand the authority of government is forced to ridicule authority generally to compensate for his real attraction to it. Were he/she to admit his/her real thoughts, he/she would be exposed as opposing other values that both he/she and others generally respect. In other words, the Leftist's humanitarianism carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. The Leftist wants to make the whole world more humanitarian but to make it do anything is, of itself, inhumane. Pol Pot was merely the most extreme example of that.
Students versus the public
The phenomenon just described is very much an intellectual one, if not in fact intellectual gymnastics, and it should be noted that most of the research on attitude to authority and psychological authoritarianism generally seems to have been done using well-educated samples -- young American college students in particular (Sears, 1986). It is possible, therefore, that the phenomenon just described is confined to well-educated people. Less educated people might have less need for and ability at such intellectual repressions. It would therefore be something of a confirmation for the theory if Leftists in the general population were less troubled about authority. As we shall see, this appears to be to at least some extent the case.
There have been a considerable number of studies of attitude to authority in the general population, mostly using some form of the California F scale of Adorno et al (1950). Overwhelmingly, however, such studies have ignored or overlooked the important problem of acquiescent bias -- the tendency for at least some people to say "Yes" to questions in a fairly thoughtless way. There have been optimists (e.g. Rorer, 1965) who have explicitly considered this problem and rated it as an unimportant one but the responses to such optimism have been fairly crushing (Campbell, Siegman & Rees, 1967; Peabody, 1966; Jackson, 1967; Ray, 1983a & 1985c) and it seems clear that tendency to acquiesce can have effects on racism and politics all by itself (Heaven, 1983; Milbrath, 1962). The situation appears to be that acquiescence effects on attitude scales do sometimes generalize from scale to scale (and hence cause spurious correlation) but when they will do so is essentially unpredictable. In the circumstances, one can never rule out an explanation of one's findings in terms of acquiescent bias unless one uses scales that are proof against its influence (i.e. "balanced" scales where there are equal numbers of "For" and "Against" items). The original F scale of Adorno et al was, however, devised before acquiescence effects were well-known so is not balanced. Most research using it, therefore, must be of uncertain implication. To make a proper examination of authoritarianism in the general population, therefore, one must turn to research using balanced scales.
General population authoritarianism
There appear to be only two studies carried out among general population samples which used balanced versions of the California F scale. Both are by the present author (Ray, 1973b & 1984) and both show no relationship between authoritarianism and vote. Among the general public both Rightists and Leftists seem equally likely to concede that authority can have both good and bad points.
A great problem with using the California F scale, however, is its dubious validity. Only about a third of its items refer to authority or its exercise and it would appear to measure many other things than attitude to authority. The implications of this have already been explored at great length elsewhere (Ray, 1988) so it should suffice here simply to note that, more than anything else, the F scale would appear to measure an old-fashioned orientation (Ray, 1988). Such an orientation could be seen as conservative in various senses but it is not an orientation that predicts authoritarian behaviour (Titus, 1968; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). More satisfactory evidence on the incidence of psychological authoritarianism than that so far considered does therefore seem needed.
There have been two alternative scales designed, as was the F scale, to measure Right-wing authoritarianism. Of these, the Ray (1972a & 1984) "A" scale focuses quite strongly on authority-related issues while the Altemeyer (1981 & 1988) RWA scale contains many items that would not be out of place in an ordinary scale of political Rightism (or "Conservatism", as some still call it). Both scales are fully balanced against acquiescence, have good reliability and a variety of validity demonstrations behind them. Many of the validity demonstrations provided by Altemeyer (1981 & 1988), however, appear to have been done with insufficient thought for the possibility that the scale might measure Rightism only rather than a particularly authoritarian form of it. Both scales, however, are clearly an improvement over the F scale.
There is also a well-constructed scale by Rigby & Rump (1979) that measures attitudes towards four different institutional authorities (the Army, the law, the Police and teachers) but this scale has no obvious political polarity. The most overtly political is the Altemeyer scale.
Altemeyer's work was limited from the outset by his naive definition of conservatism as opposition to change. As mentioned already, this ignores the fact that that the most ferocious enemies of change were not to be found anywhere in the West in the second half of the 20th century but rather in the Communist countries (Brahm, 1982). Stalin, Brezhnev and Li Peng were the great enemies of change and defenders of their status quo for their peoples in the 20th century. So Communists are Rightists and Margaret Thatcher is a Leftist according to Altemeyer's naive definitions.
And, strangely, his ideas were even less sophisticated than the ideas he claims to supersede: the ideas of Adorno et al. (1950). The Adorno work did at least attempt to measure conservatism and authoritarianism separately so that any association between them could be examined empirically. They did it very badly but they did at least make an attempt at it. Altemeyer made no such attempt. He just assumed what he had to prove: that conservatism and authoritarianism were intimately associated.
And the empirical work reported by Altemeyer is also naive. The nearest approach Altemeyer seems to have made to general population sampling is to survey the parents of his students. This would hardly be an educationally unbiased sample. Altemeyer's findings are, nonetheless, of considerable interest. What he finds is that, even among students, his RWA scale gives virtually no prediction of vote. Studies of well-educated samples show Rightists as strongly authoritarian if you use the F scale to measure authoritarianism and another scale to measure Rightism (Adorno et al, 1950) but if you use Altemeyer's RWA scale and vote as the respective criteria, there is essentially no connection between authoritarianism and Rightism.
Does this mean that the RWA scale is more valid and that results from it are the ones that we should accept? Unfortunately, no. The real situation would appear to be that both scales are of deficient validity. If the RWA scale was designed to measure Right-wing authoritarianism but does not provide any substantial prediction of anything Right-wing is not that a fundamental flaw? Is it not ridiculous and self-contradictory to say (as Altemeyer implicitly says) that many Right-wing authoritarians are Leftists? Black might as well be white. The RWA scale surely lacks even the minimum condition for validity.
In response to Altemeyer's first book (Altemeyer, 1981) I was able to devise research to check on the validity of the RWA scale. I found (Ray, 1985b & 1987) that it was not valid as a measure of authoritarianism. In response to Altemeyer's (1988) second book however, I was able to design no new research that would test his claims as it seemed to me that Altemeyer's own research clearly showed his scale to be invalid! Thus, although Altemeyer's claims are large and must, as such, be considered, it seems that to consider them with any care is to dismiss them. That would seem to leave us with only the "A" scale to consider.
The "A" scale and attitude to authority
The "A" scale does show a modest (r = .29, p <.01) correlation with tendency to vote Right-wing (Ray, 1984). It could be maintained that this was due only to its somewhat "Rightist" character but, against that, there was also included in the study a derivative of the "A" scale called the "AA" (Attitude to authority) scale wherein an attempt was made to have no overt party political content. This scale was in fact an even better predictor of vote (r = .32). This is in line with the view that some recognition of the need for certain types of carefully limited authority has always been part and parcel of "conservative" thought (Ray, 1973).
How general is attitude to authority?
At this point a strong caution about generalizing seems to be in order. I wish now in fact to be even more iconoclastic than I have so far been. I wish to do something that no-one else so far seems to have done and suggest that there is in fact no such thing as a generalized attitude to authority. For the purposes of the argument in this paper so far it has been implicitly assumed that "attitude to authority" and "authoritarianism" exist as such. They may not. We may simply have attitudes to particular authorities that do not correlate. This became evident in the construction of the "AA" scale (Ray, 1971) and can also be seen in the work of Rigby and his associates.
Rigby & Rump (1981) found that respect for one's parents generalized to respect for other authorities only in early adolescence. By late adolescence, the relationship had vanished entirely. Since it was a central claim of the Adorno et al work that attitude to authority was formed by experiences with parents, this seems an important disconfirmatory finding.
Such disconfirmations are far from unprecedented. For instance:
1). Arap-Maritim (1984) found parental strictness to produce
competitiveness in children rather than submissiveness;
2). Elms & Milgram (1966) found that it was rebellious rather than submissive children who came from strict parenting;
3). Baumrind (1983) found that children who had experienced firm parental control developed with better competencies than did children who had experienced less parental control; and
4). Di Maria & Di Nuovo (1986) found that authoritative training and parental behaviour had very little influence in determining the dogmatic attitudes of children.
Rigby, Schofield & Slee (1987) extended the work further. They noted that Johnson, Hogan, Londerman, Callens and Rogolsky (1981), in a study of college students, found that ratings of "father" and "mother" loaded on a factor different from that loading "police" and "government". They also noted that, using a younger sample, Lapsley, Harwell, Olson, Flannery and Quintana (1984) reported some correlation between ratings of "father" and ratings of "police" and "government" but no prediction at all from ratings of "mother". Rigby et al (1987) then went on to report more data of their own which they viewed as generally supporting the view that attitudes to authority do generalize. In arriving at this conclusion, however, Rigby et al (1987) relied fairly heavily on factor analysis and reported very few of their zero-order correlations. Those they do report, however, are instructive. From their table 5 we can calculate that the average correlation between rebellion/submission to parents and attitudes to the Police and the law was less than .20. This is very close to orthogonality indeed. Rebellion/submission to teachers, however, was a more substantial predictor of attitude to the Police and the law -- with a mean correlation of over .40. If, then, parents are an example of authority (as Adorno et al contended), they seem to be a very special case of it.
Perhaps more decisive in evaluating the generalizability of attitudes to authority, however, was the finding that, among High-School students, one of the three proposed components of the "AA" scale did not correlate with the other two (Ray, 1971). The body of items devised to measure "View of the leader as an executive versus a decision-maker" did not correlate with the bodies of items concerned with "Freedom versus regulation" or "Evaluation of authoritarian institutions". The latter two clusters did, however, correlate. The first cluster, therefore has to be discarded, leaving an "AA" scale that is thematically rather limited. Perhaps more disturbing, however, was the finding that none of this applied when the items were administered to an Army conscript sample. There all three elements intercorrelated highly. The degree of generalizability of attitude to authority is, therefore, not only limited but also variable.
A more recent replication among adults of the relationships (between components of the AA scale) found among the High School students can be found in Byrne, Reinhart & Heaven (1989, Table 2) so it cannot be maintained that the High School students were a "special case"
A final finding of failure to generalize in this area also comes from Ray (1971). It was found that the "AA" scale showed a correlation (.19) of only borderline significance with a scale of Social Deference. The study reported in Ray (1971) was carried out in Australia and Social Deference is an explanation that is sometimes used in Britain and Australia (See Ray, 1972b) for the fact that around a quarter of the working class vote Tory (i.e. for Rightists). British and Australian politics tend to be class-polarized with the Left being represented by a "Labor" party. It is therefore seen as requiring explanation that some workers do not vote for "their" party.
An attitude of Social Deference is one where the voter feels that he would be best represented in Parliament by a person of "standing" -- i.e. an upper-class, educated or accomplished person. Since Tory politicians tend to qualify in that way, a deferent person would vote for them even though the voter himself is very humbly situated. It would seem therefore that a deferent attitude is a strong form of authoritarian submission. That it does not in fact correlate with other pro-authority attitudes must therefore be seen as considerably disturbing to any belief that there is such a thing as a generalized attitude to authority. More inclusive concepts such as "authoritarianism" are also therefore shown as of doubtful viability.
Remmers (1959, p. 55) argues for the value and generalizability of results derived from High-School student surveys but it might nonetheless be held that a finding among a group of 110 Australian High School Students could well be a "one-off" event that should not be taken too seriously. As it happens, however, the finding just discussed has been replicated among a general community sample of Australians (Ray, 1985a, Table 2). How much evidence can we afford to ignore?
The caveat should, then, obviously be borne in mind that the "AA" scale measures only one form of attitude to authority. The items of the scale do focus rather heavily on attitude to the Army but Rigby & Rump (1979) have shown that attitude to the Army is highly predictive of attitude to the law, the Police and teachers. As far as that limited focus goes, then, it has been confirmed that Rightist voters in the general community are more acceptant of authority than are Leftist voters. The correlation observed (10% of common variance), however, is much lower than the very high correlations generally reported for well-educated respondents in Adorno et al (1950). General population Leftists are only slightly more likely to be against some conventional sources of authority than are Rightists but the tendency is there.
At this point someone must surely ask: "Are you seriously proposing that in all the vast literature on the psychology of politics there is only one study that can tell us anything about the relationship between attitude to authority and vote in the general population?" Improbable though it sounds, I am saying just that. The reason is an intersection of rarities. Psychologists who use human subjects at all usually use students as their source of data (Sears, 1986). Studies that use general population samples are rare. Also rare are studies that use balanced and valid versions of authoritarianism or attitude to authority scales. So finding a rare type of measuring instrument used on a rare type of sample does bring us down to just one study. For what little it is worth, however, there are also a large number of studies using non-balanced "authoritarianism" scales based on the F scale that show relationships between vote and authoritarianism that are weak or even non-existent (Hanson, 1975; Ray, 1973b & 1983b).
The discussion so far has concerned political attitudes. Adorno et al (1950), however, have argued that underlying authoritarian attitudes is an authoritarian personality. So strongly did they believe this that they even purported to measure personality via attitudes. Since their F scale proved non-predictive of behaviour, however (Titus, 1968; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983), it seemed desirable to construct a measure of authoritarianism in personality scale format (i.e. a behavior inventory). When this was done, the personality scale concerned (the Directiveness scale) was found to correlate with neither authoritarian attitudes nor with political party preference (Ray, 1976 & 1983).
Domineering, directing, authoritarian personalities are, then, equally likely to be found on both sides of politics but such personalities tell us nothing about the policy choices that will be made. Adorno et al were simply mistaken in their view about the influence of personality. See also Heaven & Connors (1988).
Studies of political extremists
It might be argued that studying authoritarian attitudes in general population samples drawn from any of the Western democracies is a fundamentally irrelevant exercise. Would it not be more relevant to study samples of political extremists (e.g. Communists) who support the authoritarian regimes on the world scene? This is surely true and Stone (1980 & 1988) is nearly right in pointing out that no-one ever seems to have done a study which shows Communists as having attitudes or personalities which are in any way conducive to authoritarianism.
There is the Eysenck & Coulter (1972) study but it relies on the highly
questionable "T" scale as the measure of authoritarianism. See Ray (1986). If it is true, as suggested above, that denial of motives is fundamental to being Leftist, such studies would probably have little point anyway but, since this aspect of Leftism is not so far generally known or accepted in the academic community there must be some other reason for the dearth of such studies. As one who has often attempted to do such studies, I wholeheartedly concur with the reason for thisgiven by McClosky & Chong (1984): No matter how cannily you plan it and no matter how much prior assistance you arrange from influential members of such groups, the comrades just will not do the task. They will not answer the questionnaires. They bridle immediately. The reasons given are essentially the usual objections to any questionnaire but the point is that most people have such reservations and still undertake to give answers. In other words, Communists and their ilk do not exactly deny their motives; rather they refuse to discuss them at all! Their motives and attitudes are ones that they apparently prefer not even to think about. It does rather well fit in with the picture of Leftists as being inherently in the grip of a fundamental conflict of motives.
While what I have just said is generally true, there are exceptions to every rule and the exception on the present occasion would seem to be that Rokeach (1960) did manage to obtain a sample of English Communists. They showed the highest scores on both Dogmatism and opinionation of any group surveyed.
Clearly then, the vast generalizability implied in the concept of "authoritarianism" that was put forward by Adorno et al. (1950) has irretrievably broken down. Not only do attitudes fail to generalize to personality or behaviour (Ray, 1976) but even pro-authority attitudes themselves are highly multidimensional. For more on the latter see Ray & Lovejoy (1990). That a consistent favourability towards government or State authority exists is not, however, in dispute.
The most influential work on political psychology is that by Adorno et al. (1950) -- who claim that conservatives are pro-authority whereas Leftists are anti-authority. That this vast and perverse oversimplification became widely accepted among psychologists is perhaps an understandable mistake given the characteristic opposition by Leftists in the modern "Western" democracies to the existing centres of authority and power in their countries and given the characteristic acceptance by conservatives of those same authorities.
Looking at history more broadly, however, we see that authoritarianism is central to Leftism and that Leftists are in fact dedicated practitioners of it -- so what Leftists oppose is not authority as such (or there would be no Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao etc.) but only authorities that they do not control; and what conservatives favour is not any and all authority but rather carefully limited authority -- only that degree of central authority and power that is needed for a civil society to function. See Ray (1988, 1989 & 1990) for a more extensive critique of the Adorno claims.
The biggest mistake that has been made by psychologists (e.g. Altemeyer 1981 & 1988) and others, however, is to identify conservative motivation with opposition to change. Obviously, from Cromwell to Reagan and Thatcher, change has never bothered "conservatives" one bit -- but preservation of their rights and liberties from governments that would take those rights and liberties away always has. THAT is what has always made a "conservative" -- and it still does.
Leftists, however, are great advocates of change -- using this advocacy to advance their ego needs -- in particular their search for power.
Psychological research has been summarized that gives some support to the contentions of this article but the value of all past psychological research into authoritarianism is greatly limited by its heavy reliance on questionnaires. Much of what has been said here calls into question the entire notion of using questionnaire methods to examine political values and attitudes. If it is true that the real motives of many Leftists are too grim to be normally admitted (perhaps in some cases too grim to be admited even to oneself), the normal assumption of questionnaire research -- that the respondent is giving a reasonably frank and accurate account of himself/herself will not be met. We must therefore be very cautious about ANY self-report data in that situation and do best to base our interpretations of motivation primarily on observed behaviour. And history is by far the most persuasive source of data on behaviour.
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Clickable index to the above article
Party names can be misleading
The Norman conquest
Sir Walter Ralegh
The conquest of Cadiz
Left and right in Tudor times
A Tudor tax cut
A conservative revolution
Other conservative voices
Lenin and Engels
And now for the psychology: Adorno
The "status quo"?
Origin of the "status quo" misunderstanding
Leftists in power
A home for the weird
Leftism as a religion
Primogeniture and child-rearing
So what are Rightists?
Is love of liberty basic?
Burke, Hayek, Oakeshott: Conservatism as caution
One dimension or two?
Attitude to authority
Students versus the public
General population authoritarianism
The 'A' scale
How general is attitude to authority?
Personality scales of authoritarianism
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