Authoritarianism is hardly a new phenomenon. In the early twentieth century we saw repressive authoritarian regimes in countries like Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, and the Croatian fascist ustasha movement. While some researchers debate the causes of authoritarianism, the public and institutional behavior of authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers is rather clear-cut.
Just like drug dealers and their “clients,” authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers sell and promote authoritarian addiction. It happens when followers stop thinking for themselves and submit to the emotional rhetoric of narcissistic authoritarian leaders. We now see a classic example in our daily news. His primary focus is himself and he uses and manipulates people to achieve his goals. His campaign message is emotionally-charged bully-talk, with very little serious socio-political commentary.
Authoritarian followers are highly submissive to authoritarian leaders and aggressively insist that everyone should behave as dictated by the authority. They are fearful about a changing world and a changing society which they neither understand nor want to understand. They would rather turn the clock back to some imagined golden era.
Easily incited, easily led, and reluctant to think for themselves, authoritarian followers don’t question. They obey. They are attracted to and follow strong leaders, who, in often theatrical style, appeal to their feelings of fear and anxiety. And they respond aggressively toward “outsiders.” Blind faith is substituted for critical reason. The unknown and the different become the enemy.
What authoritarian leaders want to implement is undemocratic, tyrannical, and often brutal. Authoritarianism becomes even more sinister, when authoritarian leaders begin to proclaim their message in the name of Christianity. Then, in reality, it becomes an anti-Christian social cancer starting to metastasize across the country. Blurred vision and bizarre rhetoric are the result.
(1) In their self-righteous efforts to re-shape society in their own image and likeness, authoritarians feel empowered and compelled to isolate, to segregate, to humiliate, to persecute, to beat, and even to kill.
(2) If an authoritarian leader has a narcissistic personality disorder, he or she may come across as conceited, boastful or pretentious. That person belittles or looks down on people he or she perceives as inferior.
(3) Authoritarian followers need to conform and belong to their barrel-vision-group. Loyalty to their group ranks among their highest virtues. Members of the group who question group leaders or group beliefs are quickly seen as traitors.
(4) All authoritarians go through life with impaired reasoning. Their thinking is sloppy and they are slaves to a ferocious dogmatism that blinds them to evidence and logic. As Adolf Hitler reportedly said, “What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”
[I still remember the example of faulty-thinking, given many years ago by my college logic professor: “All fish live in the sea. Sharks live in the sea. Therefore, sharks are fish.” Today of course one hears faulty-thinking authoritarian politicians and supportive religious leaders asserting: “All Mexicans are criminals” …… “All Muslims are terrorists” ….. “African Americans are lazy”….. “The Jews did kill Jesus Christ”…. “Feminists are undermining male and female identity”….. “And gays are destroying marriage and family life in America.”]
(5) Authoritarians are extremely resistant to change. It is difficult to communicate with people who are ferociously aggressive and fiercely defensive. One is not likely to get anywhere by arguing with authoritarians.
(6) Authoritarians are surprisingly uninformed about the things they say they believe in; and deep, deep down inside, many of them have secret doubts about their own core beliefs. (In somewhat the same way that publicly outspoken critics of homosexuality are often men unwilling to acknowledge their own same-sex inclinations and arrested sexual development.)
We do need to confront authoritarianism, because it is a malignancy that threatens and polarizes American society.
We need to speak-out now or forever hold our silence.
Too many people are simply standing on the sidewalk, quietly staring at the authoritarian parade as it marches on.
Even if it appears that you are the only person who grasps what’s happening, you have to take courageous leadership to inform and organize others.
Ignorance is neither civic nor religious bliss; and prejudice is based on ignorance.
Critical thinking is an adult skill. Unthinkingly following the big bully is unhealthy child’s play.
Unquestioned loyalty and obedience force authoritarian followers into servitude.
Empathy and compassion are Christ-like; but hatred and denigration of other people are tokens of the anti-Christ.
As we begin Holy Week 2016, my very best wishes for the Easter season. I will be offline for a couple weeks. Taking time for my own deeper reflection about the signs of our time.