What Is Authoritarianism?

What Is Authoritarianism? - Liberty with Love
Original air date: January 07, 2016

Robin Koerner the Blue Republican on Liberty Talk FM - Image Rotator Photo

BY: Robin Koerner, Host
PUBLISHED: January 07, 2016

 The Rise of Trump has been in Part a Reaction Against Cultural Authoritarianism

I‘ve been recently inspired by a great book I’ve been reading, “The Authoritarian Dynamic” to do a lot of thinking about authoritarianism,

As my listeners know, I was already thinking about it a lot last year: I’ve noted the authoritarianism in the politics of Trump and that in the cultural authoritarianism of the illiberal Left, especially on campuses, where they have been trying to shut down courses and prevent attendances by speakers who do not conform to its sanctioned views.

I’ve also commented that the rise of Trump has been in part a reaction against cultural authoritarianism …. and now, thanks to Karen Stenner’s book, I have a much better understanding of why that is so.

In this show, I discuss what authoritarianism is, and why and when it becomes manifest in society and politics. I also discuss how it is unrelated to conservatism of either the status quo or laissez faire varieties (and indeed it is, unsurprisingly, the opposite of the latter in many respects) – even though all three (authoritarianism, status quo conservatism and laissez faire conservatism) get lazily lumped as “conservative” in the USA, leading to a huge misunderstanding of all of them.

As we shall discover today, authoritarianism is motivated by a desire for sameness and oneness in the country/community/society with which one identifies. It becomes politically and culturally manifest only under conditions of normative threat (i.e. when those with the psychological disposition to it perceive that the sameness and oneness of the group, to which they tend to sublimate their identities, are threatened).

Studies show that there are left-leaning and right-leaning authoritarians. Interestingly, unlike conservatives, authoritarians are not averse to change (q.v. Trump’s election) if it is change toward greater homogeneity and rootedness in the group identity. Conservatives in contrast, are happy with diversity in a society – they are just not too keen that the society, diverse or homogeneous, changes too fast.

In today’s show, I put all this together and extract the lesson for libertarians and classical liberals everywhere: how do you couch libertarianism in a way that it sells to those who are most scared of it – the authoritarians. It turns out that it is easier to do in the USA, because of its history, than perhaps anywhere else… Liberty must be sold to scared Americans as the identity that unites us; that, in that sense, doesn’t increase diversity and fragmentation, but reduces it. In other words, liberty must be sold through normative reassurance…


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Robin Koerner is British-born, and recently became a citizen of the USA. A decade ago, he founded WatchingAmerica.com, an organization of over 200 volunteers that translates and posts in English views about the USA from all over the world. Robin may be best known for having coined the term “Blue Republican” to refer to liberals and independents who joined the GOP to support Ron Paul’s bid for the presidency in 2012/12
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