This is one of a series of excerpts from older articles put online by John Ray as a public service. The articles concerned are in general otherwise available only by special request to a University or other major library.


Canadian Review of Sociology & Anthropology, 1980, 17 (1), 1-23.

Submissive authoritarians: Need we fear the fearful toadie?

S.L. Sutherland

Carleton University

and E.J. Tanenbaum

University of Essex

.... In this paper, we propose a modest clarification of the means by which the central notion of authoritarianism - the authoritarian follower - can be assessed. We return to the original conception of authoritarian submissiveness as a two-dimensional characteristic, and assess the incidence and social locations of that characteristic in a large random sample of the general public. An attempt is also made to suggest the political significance of the authoritarian character which has been so defined. We then present some behavioural correlates of authoritarianism as we measure it.

To accomplish this, we first exclude all dimensions of the authoritarianism syndrome other than those statements of the desirability of obedience. Other elements of the syndrome are presented as separate scales, and the degree of the interrelatedness is investigated rather than being assumed.....


Data were collected in two large sample surveys, of which the sample of the electorate of Edmonton, Alberta taken in the winter of 1970, is of primary interest. A 77.5 per cent completion rate was obtained. the effective 'n' being 931.....



What youth needs today is strict discipline, rugged determination and the will to work and tight for family and country.
Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.
Young people get rebellious ideas, but as they grow up they should get over them and settle down.
There is hardly anything lower than a person who does not feel a great love, gratitude and respect for his parents.
If people would talk less and work more, everybody would be better off.
Most of our social problems would be solved if we could somehow manage to get rid of the immoral, crooked and feeble-minded people.
What this country needs most, more than laws and political programmes, are a few courageous, tireless, devoted leaders, in whom people can put their faith.
In this complicated world of ours, the only way we can know what is going on is to rely on leaders or experts who can be trusted.


Left-right party is a continuum of the Canadian parties which contest at the federal level, the New Democratic Party being scored in the most left position, through Liberal, Independent, Conservative and Social Credit.

Conlib issue score is a summed index of 26 then current policy statements scored for respondents according to whether they thought the policy was a 'good idea' or a 'bad idea.' A panel of 21 political scientists at the University of Alberta had identified the issues as left or right in orientation. Scores were transformed so that the scale runs from conservative to liberal. There are seven business-economic topics, six dealing with welfare economics, two references to French Canadians and several moral/political items dealing with drugs, abortion, homosexuality and capital punishment.

Table III apportions members of the sample according to their scores on the general obedience measure and on the helplessness measure.

TABLE III -(Continued)


......................................High GO.........Not High GO.........T- Value....DF......Prob

.................................Mean Std. Dev.....Mean Std. Dev.

Left-Right Party
(1 = left; 5 = right)......3.1.....1.2..............3.0.....1.1.................0.7......167.......243

Con lib issue score
(0 = right; 26 = left)...12.5....3.3.............13.1....4.0................-1.7.......206.......042

There are no differences on general interest in politics, nor in specifically electoral politics. No differences emerge on intensity of exposure to media. Voting frequency -- number of votes cast in the previous four elections at all three levels of government -- is the same and both groups attribute similar 'importance' to the three levels. Differences in take-up of commonly available political acts, like discussion and partisan activity, are not significant.....

But, even though the F-scale was tailored to be sensitive to political-economic-conservatism, those who are high on general obedience do not register as more right-wing in Canadian partisan terms.....

Vilification of outgroups is a necessary safety valve in the theory. We see here that our authoritarian followers are not more harsh toward outgroups. The syndrome fails, we find, as the two elements do not interact...

Ideologically, there is very little to choose between the two groups in Section (e) of Table IV. The only difference is with regard to civil disobedience, with the authoritarian followers adhering to the letter of the law less rigidly.

To conclude this section, it can only be said that results run counter to expectations based on the theory of the authoritarian personality...

Therefore, careful application of the theory of The Authoritarian Personality, conducted with a representative sample of electors using standard methods of survey research, gives us no reason to think that the theory can isolate those individuals who would be particularly prone to carrying out a fascist programme...

Insofar as one is willing to admit the relevance of the present research method, it would appear that the authoritarian follower does not exist in sufficient numbers, and is not sufficiently attentive to political affairs, to pose a threat to the integrity of our society. Rather, the fascistic political programme would seem to be dependent upon facilitating social conditions (said to be the historical existence of a powerful state apparatus, and a current state of social flux against a longer-tern background of general acceptance of a repressive orthodoxy) along with the accident of the powerful leader. When the conditions exist, and the leader emerges, no special automaton toadies are necessary to carry out the programme. The troops are people like us.

... The study of the Nazi era by historians has long suggested such a conclusion, even if the current burst of activity (called the 'Nazi Boom' by Geoffrey Barraclough) irresponsibly suggests the tempting excuse that fascism was served only by 'psychopaths, quasi-criminals and loners'. Belief in this excuse shuts off thoughtful examination of the serious question of how decent, ordinary people can tolerate, serve and creatively abet astoundingly vicious politics...

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