RWA--rightwing authoritarianism

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Rightwing authoritarianism (RWA) is the convergence of three attitudinal clusters:

  • Authoritarian submission: A high degree of submission to the authorities who are perceived to be established and legitimate in the society in which one lives.
  • Authoritarian aggression: A general aggressiveness, directed against various persons, that is perceived to be sanctioned by established authorities.
  • Conventionalism: A high degree of adherence to the social conventions that are perceived to be endorsed by society and its established authorities.”

It is measured by scale of questions developed by Canadian researcher Robert Altemeyer in the early 1970s, and used by researchers around the world. Altemeyer explains that “right-wing’” means a “psychological sense of submitting to perceived authorities in one’s life,” and is not identified with a specific political ideology. In the Soviet Union, “right-wing” meant a sense of submitting to communist authorities, and Altemeyer presented research showing it was so.

Altemeyer discovered a wide range of correlations over the years, which I’ve organized into four general categories.

1: Faulty reasoning -- RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Make many incorrect inferences from evidence.
  • Hold contradictory ideas leading them to ‘speak out of both sides of their mouths.’
  • Uncritically accept that many problems are ‘our most serious problem.’
  • Uncritically accept insufficient evidence that supports their beliefs.
  • Uncritically trust people who tell them what they want to hear.
  • Use many double standards in their thinking and judgements.

2: Hostility Toward Outgroups -- RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Weaken constitutional guarantees of liberty, such as the Bill of Rights.
  • Punish severely ‘common’ criminals in a role-playing situation.
  • Admit they get personal pleasure from punishing such people.
  • Be prejudiced against many racial, ethnic, nationalistic, and linguistic minorities.
  • Be hostile toward both suspected and actual homosexuals.
  • Support ‘hate crimes.’
  • Volunteer to help the government persecute almost anyone.
  • Be mean-spirited toward those who have made mistakes and suffered.

3: Profound Character Flaws -- RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Be dogmatic.
  • Be zealots.
  • Be hypocrites.
  • Be bullies when they have power over others.
  • Help cause and inflame intergroup conflict.
  • Seek dominance over others by being competitive and destructive in situations requiring cooperation.


4: Blindness To One’s Own Failings -- RWA’s are more likely to:

  • Believe they have no personal failings.
  • Avoid learning about their personal failings.
  • Be highly self-righteous.
  • Use religion to erase guilt over their acts and to maintain their self-righteousness.

RWA is also correlated with political conservatism—not so much at the level of ordinary voters, but with increasing strength as one moves from voters to activists to office holders, and then from lower to higher-level officeholders.

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