Over the last twenty years the social sciences have made inroads into understanding bias and the forms of hatred that lead to discrimination and overt mistreatment of minority groups. Two theories emerge as being particularly helpful in understanding these virulent forms of intergroup prejudice: Right wing Authoritarianism (via the work of Altemeyer and colleagues) and Social Dominance Orientation (from the work of Jim Sidanius and Felicia Pratto).
The authoritarian personality construct developed by Reich and others in the 1940s, was an appealing theory that offered promise in understanding the Fascism that developed internationally in the 1930s. Reich’s authoritarian personality theory had its empirical and measurement limitations and was pretty much abandoned by the 1980s. Altemeyer in the 1990s revived this theory and developed empirically defensible methods of measuring a construct related to Reich’s, which Altemeyer termed Right-Wing Authoritarianism. During the same decade, Sidanius and Pratto developed their construct of Social Dominance Orientation which arose from their Sociological theory, Social Dominance Theory.
People who scored high on Altemeyer’s Right-Wing Authoritarianism (RWA) scale
tended to be submissive to authority (they did not like to take charge);
were punative to those who were considered unconventional and minority groups;
were more conventional in their attitutes and behavior regarding issues such as sex, religion, and social customs.
Also according to Altemeyer, authoritarians are more accepting of illegal acts by government officials such as wire-taps, and searches without warrents. In one survey authoritarians expressed belief that Nixon was innocent of wrong-doing. Interestingly in mock jury experiements, authoritarians tend to be more punative to unconventional type defendants but more lenient with “establishment-type” white collar offenders. Authoritarianism is a quite strong and direct predictor of prejudice and discrimination.
Social Dominance Theory (SDT) proposed that as cultures became more prosperous and develop the ability to acquire excess resources, these advancements in turn led to “arbitrary-set hierarchies” which exist to legitimize the unequal distribution of resources. The formal process of legitimizing these inequalities weas termed Legitimizing Myths by SDT theorists. These myths were embraced by those with the greater share of societal resources, those identifying with these former groups, and by those aspiring to be amongst these upper ingroups.
Racism, Sexism, classism, nationalism, homophobia, and negative sterotypes are examples of legitimizing myths that justify unequal distribution of wealth, power and status. Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) was the construct that was used to measure a person’s generalized inclination to support the inequalities that resulted from abitrary-set heirarchies. SDO is a powerful predictor of conservative political views and and strongly associated with a conservative voting history. The legitimizing manuevers of SDO’s sound quite familiar to those who have read much conservative literature. For example, common heirarchy enhancing beliefs are: individual responsibility, the Protestant work ethic, and internal attributions of outgroup member failures. [AKA the boxlox trifecta].
There are distinct differences between people high in RWA and SDO. Right-wing authoritarians tend to view the world as a “dangerous place”, whereas those high on the SDO construct see the world as a “competitive place”. SDO’s know they are prejudiced, but believe they have good reasons for being so. RWA’s are less likely to be aware of their prejudices, but when they are pointed to them, they resort to the ultimate authority that cannot be legitimately questioned in their view, viz. – religion. RWA and SDO measures are uncorrelated in their predictions of measures of prejudice and bias. They arrive at the same place, but their routes to the predicting the bigotry destination take quite different roads.
The high SDOs and high RWAs are not mutually exclusive. It is quite possible to have memberships in both of these clubs. It is my belief that SDO represents more classical conservative thought and the addition of RWA influences were forcefully inserted into conservative ideology by Karl Rove, George W. Bush and the neoconservatives. I think some of the more virulent ideologues from the blogthatshallnotbenamed manifest high SDO and RWA.
I have more information on this line of research if any are interested.