Authoritarianism Rears Its Ugly Head

In times of rapid change or fear of anarchy,law-breaking and/or terrorism, when perceptions of “who we are” as a people seem to be changing, when the old rules of society seem to be breaking down, and old dreams seem no longer possible, reactionary forces are attracted to authoritarianism. This was certainly true after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, ending racial segregation. Reactionary forces led by Alabama Governor George Wallace called for a return to the good ole days of segregation, and “law and order” — code words for white police cracking down on African Americans. Wallace also railed against over-educated elites in Washington and in the media.

An interest in authoritarianism might also explain the appeal of Donald Trump, says Democratic pollster Matthew McWilliams. In Politico, he explains:

While its causes are still debated, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians obey. They rally to and follow strong leaders. And they respond aggressively to outsiders, especially when they feel threatened….

Indeed, 49 percent of likely Republican primary voters I surveyed score in the top quarter of the authoritarian scale—more than twice as many as Democratic voters…

In addition to the typical battery of demographic, horse race, thermometer-scale and policy questions, my poll asked a set of four simple survey questions that political scientists have employed since 1992 to measure inclination toward authoritarianism. These questions pertain to child-rearing: whether it is more important for the voter to have a child who is respectful or independent; obedient or self-reliant; well-behaved or considerate; and well-mannered or curious. Respondents who pick the first option in each of these questions are strongly authoritarian.

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Coincidentally, when I lived in Turkey, I could see some tension in my child-rearing style and those of my Turkish male friends. In our 12-year-old, my wife and I were far more likely to encourage independence, self-reliance, and consideration rather than to demand absolute respect from us at all times, obedience, and insist on being well-behaved at all times.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Turkey has veered strongly toward authoritarianism under the leadership of Prime Minister/President Recip Erdogan.


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