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The rise of authoritarian social conservatives: coming to terms with a temple to incuriosity and anti-intellectualism


As a geopolitical analyst my primary focus is on external events, though I am well aware that domestic and international issues are intimately intertwined. The 2008 presidential campaign thrust a set of questions into the foreground, questions that had occupied my second tier for some time:

  • How could any party exhibit such sustained incuriosity, such anti-intellectualism?
  • How could any party exhibit such unforgiving, authoritarian behavior without significant complaint from its rank and file?
  • How could any party seek the lowest common denominator instead of the highest without revolt?
  • Why is there no counterpart to Jon Stewart on the right for piercing questions to media and players alike?

The igniter: How could any party pick such a shallow incompetent [see narrative 4], a blooming race baiter that lures the worst of the party to her side, as VPOTUS candidate? This is not the Russian Federation, or Belarus, or Kyrgyzstan. We advertise ourselves as the inheritor of Augustine's "shining city on a hill."


Despite McCain's producing his spry mother from time to time, the actuarial tables are not favorable for a male of McCain's age. Even conservative friends have noted to me that his years in North Vietnam prisons have taken a toll on his health. Palin has a rather good chance of ascending while in office. To steal a page from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Palin's succession constitutes a "clear and present danger" to the state.


Full disclosure


I subscribe to the ideal that a good analyst cannot be, must not be, a member of a political party. I have never made a political contribution to any candidate or any party. Every party has its group instincts, reinforced to varying degree, as it looks to its interests and perceptions rather than reality on the ground. Members are expected to obey the group's direction regardless of outcome, and penalized when they do not. That obeisance was never me; I go where the data takes me.


I do not discuss personal political leanings in this weblog as it rightly or wrongly prematurely flags the reader depending on his or her leanings. I want the reader to get to the end and then form their opinion. Googling my name periodically to see how my material is cited, I am pleased that groups say they can't tell my leanings, consider the material well researched, and generally get grudging approval from both my left and right.


I declined an introduction to a colleague of Rove as I felt that it would reflect poorly on the referrer. I have written critically of an administration that preferred approval regardless of outcome and felt that I could pass neither the loyalty test or the contribution expectation.


I can say that I am a living fossil of a Republican, i.e., an admirer of the likes of Everett Dirksen and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. I admire the comity, intellectualism, world view, relative conviviality and negotiation of that era while despising the zero-sum politics practiced today. I often watched William F Buckley's Firing Line (also here)both for its language and its content. Now his son, Christopher, has been effectively ousted from the National Review, founded by his father, for advocating for Obama. Ousted rather than engaged. As Goldwater noted in his diary, the party had already moved rightward to the point that he could not gain ascendance were he entering the party anew.


I score a 29 on the Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) scale for personality evaluation, the implications of which are developed in the note.


Goldwater saw the fork in the road and didn't like it


For those unfamiliar with, or mistakenly think that they know, Goldwater, I recommend this obituary, interview after retirement and sample of his inclusiveness. Goldwater's direct tone put off some and opened a warmonger fear that was exploited by the Daisy Girl ad spot (video here) for Johnson. It is ironic that while Goldwater set the stage for Reagan's presidency, Johnson went on to win the 1964 election, greatly exceeding Goldwater's promises for Vietnam in the process.


I leave a deeper dive to readers as my focus here is Goldwater's concern over changes in the republican party. From Goldwater's To be conservative, Congressional Record, September 15, pp 20589-20590:

There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ. Or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls his supreme being. But, like any powerful weapon, the use of God's name on one's behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factors [sic] that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their positions 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on any particular moral issue, they cajole, they complain, they threaten you with loss of money or votes or both...


I am frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in "A," "B," "C," and "D." Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me? And I am more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every rollcall in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism...


Being a conservative in America traditionally has meant that one holds a deep, abiding respect for the Constitution. We conservatives believe sincerely in the integrity of the Constitution. We treasure the freedom that document protects.

See also Goldwater's The political movement of the New Right. Congressional Record, September 11: p20342, and Moral organizations in politics, Congressional Record, September 24: p21957. (These early 1980s items appear to be available in microfiche and are not online.) Elsewhere:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them...


When you say 'radical right' today [1994], I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party away from the Republican Party, and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye.

Addressing the new right wing of the party: 

Do not associate my name with anything you do. You are extremists, and you've hurt the Republican party much more than the Democrats have.

This latter quote is from Bugliosi's The Betrayal of America. While not appearing elsewhere, Bugliosi was a prodigiously effective federal prosecutor. I find it unlikely that he would tamper with the evidence.


Saturated by social conservative agenda, implemented by diktat


Goldwater was unsuccessful in staying the party's shift towards social conservatism and away from classic conservatism. (Federal budgets were balanced or under control only in two Democratic administrations (Johnson and Clinton) with startling rises under Reagan, Bush41 and Bush43.) Out of scope for this note are the effects of that shift save for the impact of rising authoritarian behavior on governance and obeisance, especially where it intersects with the Protestant evangelical community.

The most critical yet sympathetic and accessible (external) view of Christian Reconstructionism and Dominionism that I have read are those of Chris Hedges, a religious man and son of a minister that had himself strove for fairness and inclusiveness. See his address American Fascists. Hedges posits that Dominionists share characteristics with fascism: "a claim for moral and physical supremacy of a master race, in this case American Christians; blind obedience to a male hierarchy that often claims to speak for God; intolerance towards non-believers; and disdain for rational intellectual inquiry."


Beyond the obsession with political power, many themes stand out in his work but I noted three: 

  1. National Socialism's singling out of homosexuals as the first deviants by National Socialism, a similar path of demonizing pursued by the Reconstructionist community.
  2. Reconstructionists' caution to never attack the military and police; on the contrary, they entreat and preen these groups, enlisting in their ranks. The upshot is a ready paramilitary when it is demanded.
  3. Reconstructionists' cherry picking of the bible in pursuit of their aims mirrors that of Islamic militants' treatment of the Koran. Example: Reconstructionist eschatology enshrines rapture at endtime yet it is not in the bible. 

Hedges notes that Reconstructionists attempt to form alliances with traditional conservative groups; I agree with his assertion that it is the neocons who are Lenin's useful idiots on behalf of Reconstructionists and not the reverse. (The most authentic US fascists are the Ku Klux Klan.)


John Dean and Goldwater had been friends for decades; after Goldwater's retirement from the senate, the pair had intended to coauthor a book on the party's subsequent "hard turn to the right" but Goldwater's declining health would not permit it. Dean ultimately released Conservatives Without Conscience in 2006 to fulfill the mission:

Conservatism is not inherently moralistic, arrogant, condescending, and self-righteous. Nor is authoritarian. Yet all of these are adjectives that best describe the political outlook of contemporary conservatism. I make these observations not as an outsider, but as a conservative who is deeply troubled by what has become of a treasured philosophy. Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians, a most dangerous type of political animal...


Conservatives once looked to the past for what it could teach about the present and the future. Early conservatives were traditionalists or libertarians, or a bit of both. Today, however, there are religious conservatives, economic conservatives, social conservatives, cultural conservatives, neoconservatives, traditional conservatives, and a number of other factions.


Within these factions, there is a good amount of inconsistency and variety, but the movement has long been held together through [a focus on] its perceived enemies. Conservatives once found a common concern [with] communism [only to replace it after the fall of the USSR with] anything they perceived as liberal. [Liberal was defined as] any point of view that differed from their own, whether it was liberal or not...

For those who have yet to read Conservatives Without Conscience, I suggest Dean's short introductory trilogy in FindLaw: 

Also recommended is this video of Dean discussing the book and its antecedents:

Had I read CWC at the time, my question set would have been answered far sooner as Dean, in addition to asking what drives this new conservative elite, also asked my question: "why do their compliant followers seem to never question or criticism them?" Dean tapped a vein of research that rose in the postwar period in an effort to determine if fascism could root in the US. Paralleling studies of fascism was the related authoritarian leader and follower personalities that have symbiotic characteristics. This subset is disturbing in its implications:


Authoritarian Leaders

Authoritarian Followers

typically male

male or female


submissive to authority

opposes equality

aggressive on behalf of authority

desirous of personal power

respectful of those with power




trust untrustworthy authorities


uncritical toward chosen authority

takes advantage of others



prone to panic easily

may or may not be religious

highly religious

knowingly cheats to win

highly self-righteous; little self-awareness

intimidating and bullying


highly prejudiced against race, women, and homosexuals

prejudiced against women, homosexuals, and those of different religions


demands and returns loyalty


strict disciplinarian, dogmatic


Leaders are characterized by dominance, economic conservatism and a belief in inequality. Followers are characterized by:

  • Submissiveness to established authority.
  • "General aggressiveness" toward others when such behavior "is perceived to be sanctioned" by established authorities.
  • High compliance with "social conventions" endorsed by society and established authorities.

Sondrol characterized the differences between authoritarian and totalitarian (extreme form of authoritarian) dictators as follows:




high charisma

low charisma

leader as function

leader as individual

public power

private power

low corruption

high corruption

official ideology

no official ideology

no pluralism

limited pluralism


no legitimacy


While not addressed in the core authoritarian material, I was struck by the potential for religion to supply 'official ideology' and a charismatic preacher to supply 'charisma', thereby achieving the worst of both worlds.


Defining the authoritarian personality and its characteristics


In order to understand authoritarian behavior, Dean reached out to a principal researcher, Robert Altemeyer, a US national teaching in Canada, responsible for much of the sustaining authoritarianism research. After walking Dean through the technical literature, Altemeyer wrote two lay-accessible works that deliver the essence of the personality and its implications. Having completed a dive on primary material - see bibliography at end of note, I believe Altemeyer succeeded. (A more complete postwar research chronology can be found here.):

From chapter one of The Authoritarians:

Right-Wing and Left-Wing Authoritarian Followers... usually support the established authorities in their society, such as government officials and traditional religious leaders. Such people have historically been the "proper" authorities in life, the time-honored, entitled, customary leaders, and that means a lot to most authoritarians. Psychologically these followers have personalities featuring:

  1. a high degree of submission to the established, legitimate authorities in their society;
  2. high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities; and
  3. a high level of conventionalism.

Because the submission occurs to traditional authority, I call these followers rightwing authoritarians. I'm using the word "right" in one of its earliest meanings, for in Old English "riht"(pronounced "writ") as an adjective meant lawful, proper, correct, doing what the authorities said...


In North America people who submit to the established authorities to extraordinary degrees often turn out to be political conservatives, so you can call them "right-wingers" both in [the psychological and political sense]... But someone who lived in a country long ruled by Communists and who ardently supported the Communist Party would also be one of my psychological right-wing authoritarians even though we would also say he was a political left-winger. So a right-wing authoritarian follower doesn't necessarily have conservative political views. Instead he's someone who readily submits to the established authorities in society, attacks others in their name, and is highly conventional. It's an aspect of his personality, not a description of his politics. Rightwing authoritarianism is a personality trait...

The RWA personality test ranges from a low of 20 to a high of 180, 100 being the midpoint. Low RWAs are below 100 and high RWAs are above 100: 

What is a "high RWA"? When I am writing a scientific report of my research I call the 25% of a sample who scored highest on the RWA scale "High RWAs" with a capital-H. Similarly I call the 25% who scored lowest "Low RWAs," and my computer runs wondrous statistical tests comparing Highs with Lows. But in this book where I'm describing results, not documenting them, I'll use "high RWAs" more loosely to simply mean the people in a study who score relatively highly on the RWA scale, and "low RWAs" will mean those who score relatively low on the test.

Authoritarian submission and aggression


No wonder that I see dead air in this demographic when I look for challenge to received wisdom:


Authoritarian submission 

Authoritarian followers seem to have a "Daddy and mommy know best" attitude toward the government. They do not see laws as social standards that apply to all. Instead, they appear to think that authorities are above the law, and can decide which laws apply to them and which do not--just as parents can when one is young. But in a democracy no one is supposed to be above the law. Still, authoritarians quite easily put that aside...


High RWAs trusted President Nixon longer and stronger than most people did during the Watergate crisis.11 Some of them still believed Nixon was innocent of criminal acts even after he accepted a pardon for them...


High RWAs felt [Bush43's] policy was "both necessary and appropriate"" because of terrorism... authoritarian followers blissfully tolerated many illegal and unjust government actions that occurred... 

In Milgram electric shock replications authoritarian followers excuse higher authorities:  

high RWA students tended to blame the Experimenter less [the one who is telling the subject to administer the shock and "said, if pressed, that he would accept responsibility for whatever happened"] for what happened to the victim than most students did. [High RWAs blamed the subject ] ordered to deliver the shocks, and the victim, more than most others did.

Authoritarian Aggression


High RWAs appear to aggress anyone unloved by authorities. Altemeyer started with a proposal to persecute Communists, homosexuals, religious cults, "radicals" and journalists out of favor with government. High RWAs responded positively. Altemeyer then tried to organize an attack group that: 

liberals would join, to go after the Ku Klux Klan. But high RWAs crowded out everyone else for that job too. Then I offered as targets the very right-wing Canadian Social Credit Party, the Confederation of Regions Party, and the mainstream Progressive Conservative Party of Canada. These were the parties of choice for most authoritarian followers at the time, yet high RWAs proved more willing to persecute even the movements they liked than did others...

high RWAs... aggress when they believe right and might are on their side. "Right" for them means, more than anything else, that their hostility is (in their minds) endorsed by established authority, or supports such authority. "Might" means they have a huge physical advantage over their target... Women, children, and others unable to defend themselves are typical victims. [A]ttackers typically feel morally superior to the people they are assaulting in an unfair fight...


High RWAs tend to feel more endangered in a potentially threatening situation than most people do, and often respond aggressively.

Dean said that Altemeyer told him that "I look at the numbers in the [US], and I see about 23 percent of the population who are pure right-wing authoritarian followers.  They're not going to change.  They're going to march over the cliff.  The best thing [is] to deal with them - and they're growing.  And they have tremendous influence on Republican politics.  The best thing, the best defense is understanding them, to realize what they're doing, how they're doing it, and how they operate...


From the above, it appears that I have a one in five chance of potentially being harmed by a US citizen who will set aside statue law to harm me, despise me for no valid reason, and will continue to inflict harm on me for an indeterminate period until the higher authority relents. Heretofore, I thought that it was an external actor - an Islamic terrorist perhaps - that would do that.


I have many of my answers now. I suggest readers refresh themselves with the Stanford Prison Experiment:

Why Barry Goldwater Couldn't Support Obama

Barry M. Goldwater, Jr.

Huffington Post

Posted October 23, 2008 | 08:38 PM (EST)


Why McCain Has Lost Our Vote

CC Goldwater

Huffington Post

Posted October 23, 2008 | 10:28 AM (EST)


The Making (and Remaking) of McCain


New York Times

October 22, 2008


National Review Boots Buckley Son For Obama Boost

By Howard Kurtz

Washington Post

October 15, 2008


McCain and the politics of mortality



9/3/08 4:50 AM EDT


United States National Debt

An Analysis of the Presidents Who Are Responsible for the Borrowing

By Steve McGourty

21 September 2008, fourth Revision


Replicating Milgram: Would people still obey today?

Burger, J. M. (in press). [as of 2008]

American Psychologist.


Decades later, still asking: Would I pull that switch?

By Benedict Carey


Published: July 1, 2008

A Famous Experiment [Slide Show]


Scheherazade in the White House

How George Bush's wartime administration used a magician, Hollywood designers and Karl Rove telling 1,001 stories to sell the invasion of Iraq.

By Christian Salmon

Translated by Morag Young

Le Monde diplomatique

January 2008


Table of Contents and Preface to Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture

Manuscript, not published book, version

Alan Sokal



The Milgram Experiment Today?

The Situationist

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 22, 2007


State report: Multiple failures after prank call leads to shocks

By Associated Press/Boston Herald

Friday, December 21, 2007


Personality and Prejudice: From Big Five Personality Factors to Facets

Bo Ekehammar and Nazar Akrami

Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

Journal of Personality 75:5

DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2007.00460.x

October 2007


Case Study


NYT Magazine

Published: September 19, 2008


Understanding the Contemporary Republican Party: Authoritarians Have Taken Control

Part One in a Three-Part Series



Sep. 05, 2007


Why Authoritarians Now Control the Republican Party: The Rise of Authoritarian Conservatism

Part Two in a Three-Part Series



Sep. 21, 2007


The Impact of Authoritarian Conservatism On American Government: Part Three in a Three-Part Series



Sep. 25, 2007


A short version of the Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) Scale

Anna Maria Manganelli Rattazzi, Andrea Bobbioa and Luigina Canovaa

Department of General Psychology, University of Padova, Via Venezia, 8, 35131 Padova, Italy

Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 43, Issue 5, October 2007, Pages 1223-1234


Received 27 September 2006; revised 12 March 2007; accepted 21 March 2007; Available online 23 May 2007


Language's Affect on Culture: A Research Design

Michael White

PSY 6347 Developmental Psychology

Fall 2007


Recent Developments in the Study of Prejudice

by Michael R. Parker and Uwe P. Gielen

St. Francis College, the Institute for International and Cross-Cultural Psychology

Eye on Psi Chi

Vol. 11 Iss. 4

Summer 2007


American Fascists [video speech/Q&A]

by Chris Hedges

Learn Out Loud Product ID: A026429


John Dean: Conservatives Without Conscience [video speech/Q&A]

by John W. Dean

Learn Out Loud Product ID: J026612


Liberals Without Logic: Inconsistencies and Irrationality in John W. Dean's "Conservatives Without Conscience"

By Peter Thomas

Published by, 2006

ISBN 1847285252, 9781847285256


Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop

By Jay Rosen


December 18, 2006


Conservatives Without Conscience

Current conditions in US seem to align with Robert O. Paxton's nine "mobilizing passions" of fascism

Review of Conservatives Without Conscience

By John W. Dean

Viking, New York, 2006

David Neiwert

Media Transparency

September 18, 2006


John Dean Reflects on the 'Conservatives Without Conscience' Who Currently Run Our Country


Submitted by BuzzFlash on Wed, 08/09/2006 - 4:02pm.


The Authoritarians

Bob Altemeyer

Department of Psychology

University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada





New York Times

Published: July 30, 2006


The Authoritarian Streak in the Conservative Movement

By John Dean


Posted July 22, 2006


Triumph of the authoritarians


By John W. Dean

Boston Globe

July 14, 2006


'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 10

Transcript to the Monday show

updated 1:38 p.m. ET, Tues., July. 11, 2006


Guests: John Dean, Paul F. Tompkins


Conservatives Without Conscience

by John W. Dean

Viking (July 11, 2006)

ISBN-10: 0670037745


A Few Bad Men

Ten years after a scandal over neo-Nazis in the armed forces, extremists are once again worming their way into a recruit-starved military.

by David Holthouse

Southern Poverty Law Center

July 7, 2006


Hate Groups Are Infiltrating the Military, Group Asserts


New York Times

Published: July 7, 2006


Does authoritarianism predict post-9/11 attitudes?

H. Michael Crowson, Teresa K. DeBackera and Stephen J. Thomab

Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 39, Issue 7, November 2005, Pages 1273-1283



Construction of a short version of the Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) scale

Ingrid Zakrisson

Department of Social Sciences, Mid Sweden University, SE-831 25 Ostersund, Sweden

Received 25 June 2004; accepted 1 February 2005

Available online 5 July 2005


The Social Psychology of Hatred

Evan R. Harrington

Paper presented at the Conference to Establish the Field of Hate Studies, Spokane, WA, March 20, 2004


Vol. 3:49 2003/04



Without a Doubt: Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush


New York Times

October 17, 2004


Highly Dominating, Highly Authoritarian Personalities

Journal of Social Psychology

ISSN 00224545. ISBN 00224545

Volume 144, issue 4, pages 421-447



The 2004 Essay: The Conscience of a Conservative

by Barry Goldwater

Foreword by Edwin J. Feulner

President's Essay 2004

Heritage Foundation



What Happens When Authoritarians Inherit the Earth? A Simulation

Bob Altemeyer

University of Manitoba

Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2003, pp. 161-169.



When Do We Sacrifice for Our Leaders?

Mark Van Vugt

School of Psychology

University of Southampton

The Psychologist, in press






Friday, Aug. 10, 2001


Right-wing authoritarianism, social dominance orientation and personality: an analysis using the IPIP measure

Heaven P.C.L., Bucci S.

European Journal of Personality

John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Volume 15, Number 1, January/February 2001 , pp. 49-56(8)


The Other 'Authoritarian Personality'

Advances in Experimental Social Psychology

Academic Press

Volume 30, p. 47-92, 1998

MIRROR at University of Kentucky, Lexington


Trailblazing Icon of Conservatism Dies

LA Times

May 30, 1998 in print edition A-1


Goldwater had a way with words

The Arizona Republic

May. 29, 1998 12:00 PM


The Authoritarian Specter

Harvard University Press

ISBN 0-674-05305-2

November 1996


Barry Goldwater's Left Turn

By Lloyd Grove

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, July 28, 1994; Page C01


Totalitarian and Authoritarian Dictators: A Comparison of Fidel Castro and Alfredo Stroessner

Paul C. Sondrol

Journal of Latin American Studies

Vol 23, No. 3, pp 599-620

October 1991


Arizona legend talks politics

The warrior comes home

John Kolbe

Phoenix Gazette political columnist

Dec. 3, 1986 12:00 PM


The Perils of Obedience

Stanley Milgram

Harper's Magazine

Abridged and adapted from Obedience to Authority



Classic Political Ad: Daisy Girl (1964)


Behavioral study of obedience

Stanley Milgram

Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 67:pp 371-378



Citation Summary


The Conscience of a Conservative

by Barry Goldwater

Hillman Books, New York


2007 version edited by CC Goldwater, Princeton Univ Press


Gordon Housworth

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