Robert Altemeyer is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Manitoba, and has been studying and writing about authoritarian personalities for forty years.
Mostly by personal desire, his work went much unnoticed, until John Dean of Watergate fame, discovered his work, and eventually convinced him to publish. And publish he did. You can read the book free online in PDF form.
Fully twenty to twenty-five percent of the American public are what are called RWA’s. (Right-wing authoritarians) Contrary to what you might assume, this means that they are FOLLOWERS of authority rather than being power-hungry themselves (although most High Dominators are also high RWA’s).
If you want to know what they are? Think tea party, think right-wing evangelicals, think (for the most part) Republicans rather than Democrats. Think highly conservative rather than highly liberal.
The characteristics that are associated with being a RWA are: a high degree of submission to whatever authority figures they adopt as such, the willingness to be violent on behalf of those figures and their agenda, and a high level of conventionalism.
They are people who are angry, and more importantly fearful. They are fearful of people in general, they see danger around them, they are likely to think that a crisis is always just around the corner. They consider themselves highly moral, and are self-righteous, seeing that “others” are ruining society. They avoid people “not like them” and this is particularly true when they are religious.
In fact, the religious fundamentalist scores very high on the RWA scale. Their parents protect them from those “not their kind” often home school them to avoid dangerous doctrines (like evolution). They try to steer them to conservative and/or religious schools where they will be taught the “right things.”
Where it gets awful is in how they think. They are prone to illogical thinking. They are not critical thinkers, preferring to accept the “reasoning” offered if the end result fits their preferred opinion. In fact they cannot separate well the conclusion from the means, and constantly are victim to unproven conclusions that they favor. They have highly compartmentalized minds which allows contradictory information to be filed alongside each other, with no fear of “merging”. Thus they believe things in opposition to each other.
When they feel some fact threatens their view, they see out sources from “their” side to reinforce their beliefs, rather than try to garner a broad range of information and re-evaluate. Thus, facts or proofs to the contrary don’t touch them. You cannot reason logically with them. In fact, in the face of proof to the contrary, they become more dogmatic in their beliefs, finding more reasons to distrust any one suggesting otherwise: i.e., the “lame-stream media” and “libtards” and “players of the race card”.
In the name of protecting their “freedom” to have their authority bowed to, they will destroy real freedom of thought, speech and action.
While their leaders may also be RWA’s, they need not be. These are essentially narcissistic personalities who want power over others. They are not concerned with fairness, equality, nor honesty. They deeply believe that equality is not either real or to be desired. It is a jungle out there, and the fittest survive.
They may pretend to hold values similar to the high RWA’s but it is usually done cynically and with an eye to “picking the lowest hanging fruit”. They use the right-wing fundamentalist and tea bagger mentality, giving lip service to “Christian” values, to capture their loyalty and thus enlist them in the army of the righteous.
This has been the deliberate effort of some parts of the GOP for some years–the capture of the religious right.
There is little short-term that can be done to turn their folks around. Logic, as noted, will not work. It is essential for the minority voices to maintain a constant opposition and truth-telling to the lies and fears the Dominators use to keep the “masses” in line. Education must be promoted.
It is a scary book. It is an important book for most people to read and understand. The extremists on the right have a very clear agenda and the authority figures who rule them are smart and determined. This book explains what is already known of course, but now has offers the psychological underpinnings that drive seemingly normal people to pursue political agendas that are in opposition to their economic and social interests in the long run.