Revisiting Theodore W. Adorno’s work on the ‘authoritarian personality’ and the ‘F Scale’ reveals that in 2020, it is actually liberals, progressives and the so called ‘Left’ that manifest 8 out of the 9 most problematic, antidemocratic and authoritarian attitudes.
The theory of an authoritarian personality was introduced in the 1930s in an attempt to explain the mass appeal of fascism and right-wing ideologies. It came to life in the wake of a sharp rise in the popularity of fascist movements in many European societies in the inter-war period.
At the time, many European ideologists and intellectuals were deeply inspired by Marx and Freud. Marxism predicted that the great depression would translate into a vast shift in working class conciousness, materialising into a global socialist revolution. Of course, this didn’t happen. The economic crisis resulted instead in mass support for nationalist and fascist movements that were often deeply anti-Semitic.
The rational behind the above deviation from the Marxist prophecy borrowed some Freudian theoretical mechanisms. ‘People are authoritarians’ was the given ‘explanation’: under certain threatening conditions ‘authoritarian characters’ are emotionally and cognitively vulnerable to the appeal of fascist and nationalist ideologies.
During the 1930s a score of Jewish Germanic intellectuals mainly (but not at all) associated with the Frankfurt School (e.g., Wilhelm Reich) were committed to point at the psychological and socio-economic conditions responsible for the making of the Authoritarian personality.
In his 1933 work The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Wilhelm Reich attempted to explain the striking victory of ‘reactionary’ fascism over ‘progressive’ communism. Reich was desperate to rescue the relevance of revolutionary Marxism. To do so, he formed a new ‘post-Marxist’ theoretical outlook to explain why the Germans of his time favoured ‘authoritarianism’ over a ‘preferable’ communist revolution.
Reich reckoned that the attraction of ‘reactionary’ and ‘conservative’ politics and the inclination towards fascism is driven by a long history of rigid, authoritarian patriarchy which affects family, parenting, primal education and eventually, society as a whole. In an attempt to save society from fascism, Reich synthesized Marx and Freud into a ‘sexual revolution.’
In 1950, the Frankfurt School’s prominent intellectual Theodor W. Adorno, along with others, published The Authoritarian Personality, a collection of studies that became a prime academic text in the domain of social science. In this volume Adorno and others delved into the theory of the authoritarian personality and reported the results of a decade-long research in testing the theory.
Bearing in mind the origins of many of its members and the prime intellectual objective of the Frankfurt School, it is far from surprising that the investigation had begun with an attempt to explain the psychological roots of anti-Semitism: the assumption was that authoritarian personalities manifest some ethnocentric patterns that come to life with xenophobic inclinations and a dislike of out-groups and minorities.
Adorno & co. reduced the authoritarian personality into a set of nine ‘implicitly antidemocratic,’ attitudes and beliefs. Adorno believed that it was possible to identify authoritarian personalities by the degree to which people would agree with these nine attitudes. The nine fascist attitudes; are briefly summarised here:
- Conventionalism: Adherence to conventional values.
- Authoritarian Submission: Towards ingroup authority figures.
- Authoritarian Aggression: Against people who violate conventional values.
- Anti-Intraception: Opposition to subjectivity and imagination.
- Superstition and Stereotypy: Belief in individual fate; thinking in rigid categories.
- Power and Toughness: Concerned with submission and domination; assertion of strength.
- Destructiveness and Cynicism: hostility against human nature.
- Projectivity: Perception of the world as dangerous; tendency to project unconscious impulses.
- Sex: Overly concerned with modern sexual practices.
Reviewing the relevance of Adorno’s take on authoritarianism in the light of the current global pandemic hysteria or the battle over the integrity of the American presidential election may reveal that in accordance with the F Scale, it is actually progressives, liberals and the so called ‘Left’ who are manifesting the most problematic antidemocratic authoritarian patterns:
- According to Adorno, Fascists ‘adhere to conventional values.’
In 2020 ‘conventional values’ are practically dictated by so-called ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ ‘community standards’ as defined by Twitter, FB and Google. These conventional values are often validated by ‘factcheckers,’ occasionally substantiated by conventions rather than anything that resembles factual research, academic or theoretical study.
- Adorno tells us that fascists manifest authoritarian aggression against people who violate conventional values.
As things stand ‘cancel culture’ is actually a progressive/liberal operational mode. People see their culture being cancelled for exploring critical views of conventional thoughts that are precious to progressives. It is hardly a secret that there is a growing fear amongst the wider public of expressing criticism, let alone doubts on a number of progressive issues, as such conduct could lead to vile aggression.
- Adorno insists that Fascists oppose to subjectivity and imagination.
In reality it is progressive algorithms that are set by ‘liberals’ at Twitter and FB to trace and punish those who dare to explore subjective ideas about COVID-19, Trump, gender, Palestine or Soros. The progressive notion of political correctness is in itself a tyrannical call designed to suppress any form of subjectivity or imagination.
- According to Adorno Fascists are superstitious and think in a stereotypical manner, they believe in individual fate and think in rigid categories.
Sadly, it is actually progressives and liberals who succumb to rigid categories such as ‘white,’ ‘privileged,’ ‘conspiracy theorists,’ ‘anti-Semites,’ ‘supremacists,’ ‘racists.’ ‘deplorables’ and so on. In the world in which we live, a significant number of American voters express doubts about the last election’s integrity but their voice is institutionally ignored because they are ‘white,’ ‘conspiratorial,’ and generally ‘deplorable.’ Similarly, many Westerners express scepticism about COVID-19 vaccines, yet the so called ‘liberal’ mainstream media wouldn’t let their voices be heard let alone explored. The COVID-sceptics are presented as ‘delusional’ and ‘conspiracy theorists.’ Whether this is indeed the case or not, it is rather evident that it is progressives and liberals who actually operate within a rigid intellectual realm made of strict categories.
- Adorno insists that Fascists are obsessed with domination.
In 2020 it is actually the liberal and progressive internet giants from Google to Amazon that celebrate their domineering powers eliminating those whom they do not agree with, deleting their pages, fiddling with their rankings and practically eliminate their thoughts. This is what book burning means in 2020. You may also ask yourself who often exercises violence against statues, adhering to the foolish belief that defacing a statue equals ‘rewriting history.’
- Authoritarians can’t handle cynicism. They are hostile towards the human nature, Adorno says
I ask myself who is chasing comedians, artists, authors, scientists who dare to mock contemporary hegemonic discourses. How many books were burned by Amazon? How many lectures and videos were removed by Google/YouTube? In the world in which we live, liberals and progressives censor elected politicians and mark their comments.
- Adorno believed that Fascists perceive the world as a dangerous place and they tend to attribute their own unconscious impulses to others
In the upside-down world in which we live, it is actually the so-called right wing and nationalists who constantly refuse to be tormented by global threats: whether it is global warming or pandemics. It is the ‘Left’, liberals and progressives who succumb to every possible global warning whether factual or imaginary. As we will read shortly, in the world in which we live it is not the right-wing or the nationalist who ‘projects’ his or her symptoms. It is actually right-wing Americans who are otherized and suppressed to the point that they struggle to see their vision being heard let alone discussed by mainstream media.
- Adorno believed that fascists and authoritarians are overly concerned with modern sexual practices.
This is the only criterion that genuinely relates to contemporary conservatives. It is fair to argue that conservatives are still succumbing to the idea that gender is a binary matter. They also adhere to family and church values. However, this doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with ‘fascism ‘or ‘authoritarianism.’ People who believe that gender is a binary matter can often argue their case and also discuss any other topic in the frankest manner.
A current examination of Adorno’s F-Scale and the Authoritarian Personality reveals that it is actually progressives and liberals who manifest the quintessential fascist tendencies. While contemporary conservative and nationalist correlation with the F Scale may not grow beyond 0.12 (1 trait out of 9) liberal and progressive correlation with Adorno’s F scale can rise up to 0.88 (8 out of 9).
Was Adorno totally wrong then? Not necessarily. Adorno’s F Scale describes the authoritarian condition that is characteristic of hegemony, domination and a particularly exceptionalist world view. In the 1930s some European right-wing nationalist ideologists evolved into radical exceptionalism. The F scale describes their attitude accurately. Nowadays, that sense of exceptionalism and chosenism is progressive territory, as progressives happen to be people who believe that others are reactionary. Progressives, as such, are people who believe themselves to be chosen.
The fight against anti-Semitism and the attempt to understand its roots was at the heart of Adorno and the Frankfurt School’s work. Bizarrely, Adorno’s F Scale is an adequate description of the Jewish condition. Each of Adorno’s F scale authoritarian traits can be traced at the core of Judaic beliefs and thought; Judaism is a rigid authoritarian adherence to Mitzvoth (conventional values). It demands the total rule of Rabbis (Authoritarian Submission). It doesn’t tolerate any form of deviation (Authoritarian Aggression). It is superstitious and lumps the ‘goyim’ in a stereotypical manner (Superstition and Stereotypy) and so on. It is therefore plausible that those ‘attitudes’ which Adorno attributed to fascists by means of projection are those which Adorno actually found in himself. Such an observation of Adorno’s project would validate the work of the great philosopher Otto Weininger, who proclaimed that that which we hate in others is that which we hate in ourselves.