Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Authoritarianism and the Escape from Freedom

Theodore Adorno and his fellow authors of The Authoritarian Personality (Adorno, et al. 1950) focused, like Fromm, on the right-wing and, in particular, on antisemitism in the right-wing. Through their focus on right-wing politics, Fromm and Adorno both revealed their left-wing leanings (both were associated with the Frankfort Institute which sought to blend Freudian and Marxist perspective). Milton Rokeach (1960) led the way in trying to correct this bias. He was particularly concerned that the authoritarian mode of thinking and feeling (which he labeled “dogmatism”) not be restricted to the right wing. Hoffer (1951) similarly thought that the authoritarian (the “true believer”) is to be found at all points on the political spectrum.

My temporary diversion into the issue of ideological bias was taken because it is very hard not to take a biased position when analyzing the nature and dynamics of authoritarianism. I would propose that the politics of psychology might be just as important to explore as the psychology of politics. In many ways, political psychology (along with the psychology of money) is the “third rail” in the discipline of psychology—there is very little written explicitly about political psychology and that which is written tends to come saturated with specific biases.

Many of the social observers I am referencing in this series of essays on freedom come to their observation with a strong political bias—often left-wing. While it is understandable that their political leaning has often been a primary motivator for them to do their analysis, it is important that we take their leaning into account when assessing the validity of their observations—as well as the validity of my own work (with my own left-leaning biases).

Declaring Unswerving Loyalty

I will now return to Fromm’s identification of the major elements of authoritarianism (keeping in mind the particular left-leaning perspective from which Fromm is viewing this important social/political phenomenon). He suggests that this third element is centered on the declaration of unswerving loyalty to a specific leader or agency. This third element, once again, builds directly off the first two elements. Having disowned our own personal power, as well as identity, we now rely on and are absolutely dependent upon the person, group, or institution in which we have invested all authority and power. As I noted earlier, the leader can become a numinous experience for us—being both compelling and a bit frightening.


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About the Author

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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