We're Dealing with 2 Types of Authoritarians
Political psychologists have found that there isn't just one authoritarian political orientation, as once thought. There are two. Witness the Presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.
The "Authoritarian Personality" was first defined in a 1950 book by that name, written by Theodor W. Adorno, Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford. They theorized that there are "potentially fascistic" individuals in society who have a common personality "structure." To test their theory, they interviewed and gave a value scale questionnaire (the "F-scale") to over 2,000 subjects. They concluded that
There exists something like "the" potentially fascist character, which is by itself a "structural unit." In other words, traits such as conventionality, authoritarian submissiveness and aggressiveness, projectivity, manipulativeness, etc., regularly go together.
The study provoked interest, at first, but fell out of favor due to complaints about its methodology and perceived bias.
However, the concept and measurement scale were later refined by Bob Altemeyer, beginning at least in 1981. His research repeatedly found that there were individuals who had personalities which included:
1) a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in
2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
3) a high level of conventionalism.
Altemeyer called these individuals "Right-Wing Authoritarians," or "RWAs." In his 2007 paper titled "The Authoritarians," he explained that he was using the word "Right" in its Old English sense: "lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said." As he noted later, the authorities in question had to be regarded as "legitimate" by the RWAs.
In 1996, Altemeyer studied how RWAs performed on some other personality tests. What he found was that RWAs also got high positive scores on the following scales (in descending order):
"Traditionalism," defined by Shalom Schwartz as:
Respect, commitment, and acceptance of the customs and ideas that traditional culture or religion provides...Maintaining cultural and religious traditions
"Dangerous World" (belief that the world is dangerous)
"Conformity," defined by Shalom Schwartz as:
Restraint of actions, inclinations, and impulses likely to upset or harm others and violate social expectations or norms.
and "Need for Structure."
In summary, RWAs tend to be religious fundamentalists who see the world as dangerous and themselves as "righteous." They are conformists who need structure, and they value the maintainance of traditional ideas and norms. I would prefer to say that they have a "Rule-Guided Orientation," but "RWA" is the established label.
Several writers have noted that Donald Trump's Presidential campaign appears to have brought out Authoritarians (for examples, see here and here and here). I think Trump is authoritarian, but he doesn't fit the RWA type. True, he is trying to appeal to RWAs. He went to Liberty University, a self-described Christian institution, and presented himself as a defender of the faith. But Ted Cruz is actually more representative of the RWA. He didn't just appear at Liberty University, he announced his Presidential campaign there. Moreover, his announcement speech specifically noted his father's adoption of Baptist Christianity, his mother being the daughter of missionaries, and his own belief that our rights come from God Almighty. And he advocates a religious test for public office:
"Any President who doesn't begin every day on his knees isn't fit to be Commander-in-Chief of this country." - Ted Cruz, 6 November 2015, National Religious Liberties Conference [source]
Coincidentally, his surname, "Cruz," is Spanish for "Cross!"
While Altemeyer was refining the definition and scales for RWAs, psychologists Felicia Pratto, Jim Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle uncovered another significant political orientation. They theorized that people vary in the extent to which they desire that their in-group "dominate and be superior to out-groups." They believed that Individuals with a high "Social Dominance Orientation" would "favor social practices that maintain or exacerbate inequality among groups and will oppose social practices that reduce group inequality," and their research confirmed it. A battery of personality tests given to almost 2,000 college students between 1990 and 1992 disclosed that Social Dominance Orientation ["SDO"] had significant positive associations with support for capitalism (presumably because capitalism legitimizes inequality based on competition), nationalism, racism, cultural elitism, support for the military and support for wars of dominance (i.e., not for "humanitarian" wars). On the other hand, SDOs were significantly negative on measures of concern for others, altruism and communality.
Altemeyer refers to SDO as "The Other 'Authoritarian Personality.'" In his 1996 study of RWAs, he also subjected SDOs to other popular personality tests. He found SDOs to have their strongest association with the value of "Power," which Shalom Schwartz defines as the value of "Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources."*
As I said earlier, a number of authors have suggested that Donald Trump's supporters are authoritarians. I think it's more accurate to say that Trump and his followers have high Social Dominance Orientations. Consider the fact that Trump announced his campaign at "Trump Tower," a monument to his personal wealth and power. His initial campaign speech expressed his intent to have more victories over other countries, countries which were "beating us" and "killing us," he said. He proclaimed that our enemies were getting stronger while we were getting weaker. And his followers proudly display their racism, nationalism, and cultural elitism during his rallies. All of these fit the SDO profile.
Coincidentally, his surname, "Trump," is an English word meaning "to dominate!"
It's important to note that Altemeyer, the Pratto group and others have found somewhat small but statistically significant relationships between RWAs and SDOs. The two political orientations can overlap in some regards. Altemeyer found that both RWAs and SDOs were substantially associated with ethnocentrism and prejudice against homosexuals, Blacks and women. However, they were also significantly distinguishable. For example, Altemeyer found that RWAs were more strongly associated with religious fundamentalism, self-righteousness and traditionalism than SDOs. SDOs, on the other hand, were more strongly associated with value of power than RWAs.
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT?
We are all created equal, but we are not all the same. Too often we assume that everyone else is just like us, so our different political views can only be due to ignorance, brainwashing or stupidity. Why do people act against what we see as their "interest?" Because they have a different view of their "interest." It's not that they are "irrational." Their actions are "value-rational," i.e., calculated on the basis of their values. Someone with a high RWA political orientation will place greater value on following established rules, customs and traditions. They will resist change. Someone with a high SDO political orientation will place greater value on ensuring that they and their identity groups dominate socially. They will resist policies of social equalization.
According to Mary Kay Magistad of Public Radio International, "Polling data suggests roughly 18 to 30 percent of Americans fall into [the Authoritarian] camp, and that more can be swayed to support political 'strong men' when they feel under threat." But all is not lost. The good news is, people vary in the degree to which they have an RWA or SDO political orientation. And the vast majority of Americans are not Authoritarians.
*SDOs also scored high on Eysenck & Eysenck's 1976 "Psychoticism" scale, but this scale was found to have some design issues, as acknowledged later by the authors themselves.