peculiar scramble for status

In a study on ‘authoritarian personality’ conducted in the late 1940s, the sociologist Adorno and colleagues asked their subjects to react to the the following two statements:

Obedience and respect for authority are the most important virtues children should learn.

Every person should have complete faith in some supernatural power whose decisions he obeys without question.

Their findings included the following nine characteristics associated with the “authoritarian personality” :

rigid adherence to convention;

submission to the authorities of the in-group;

aggression against those who deviated from convention;

opposition to imaginative, subjective or soft-hearted experience;

superstition and rigid belief categories;

obsession with strength and powerful father figures;

generalized hostility and anger at humanity;

the tendency to believe that wild and dangerous things are going on in the world, a projection of repressed emotions;

and an obsession with sex.

A decade later another sociologist Hafstadter linked the pervasive ‘pseudo-conservativism’ in America to life here being hardscrabble, unpredictable, diverse and status obsessed.  In essence, the authoritarian personality is ubiquitous, and derives from instability.  He wrote:

“pseudo-conservatism is in good part a product of the rootlessness and heterogeneity of American life and, above all, of its peculiar scramble for status and its peculiar search for secure identity.”

“Pseudo-Conservatism Revisited – 1965,” Hofstadter

There are dark eventualities implicit in these social realities.  Hafstadter describes one below:  how a minority could manipulate an insecure population such as ours to make a perpetually unstable state.

 “[I]n a populist culture like ours, which seems to lack a responsible elite with political and moral autonomy, and in which it is possible to exploit the wildest currents of public sentiment for private purposes, it is at least conceivable that a highly organized, vocal, active and well-financed minority could create a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”

“Pseudo-Conservatism Revisited – 1965,” Hofstadter

Is more being said now about the pursuit of well being or as Aristotle called it eudaimonia – thriving – as a reaction against the reductive way of living so well described in these observations made by Hafstadter and Adorno?  One can hope.  Writing on empathy, community, sustainability, and wellbeing provide antidotes to a susceptibility to authoritarian personality and a culture of fear.

[All quotations are taken from Gary Kamiya’s article,  The infantile style in American politics, in Salon]

1 Comment so far
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Interesting. There’s a point there about the abdication of responsibility and connection by wealthy elites I think.

Comment by blackwatertown

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