Tag Archives: sociology

The Origins of Political Hate

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.

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