101 min read

William Bergquist and Kevin Weitz

“Man would fain be great and sees that he is little; would fain be happy and sees that he is miserable; would fain be perfect and sees that he is full of imperfections; would fain be the object of the love and esteem of men, and sees that his faults merit only their aversion and contempt. The embarrassment wherein he find himself produces in him the most injust and criminal passions imaginable, for he conceives a mortal hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults.” Pascal, Pensees

There has been a longstanding interest in the phenomenon of authoritarian commitment. This is the uncritical acceptance of the subjective and emotional. It is the restriction and limitation of that which is perceived and conceived. It is the rejection of that which is abstract and indefinite and the distortion of that which is to serve as a belief or motivation in the service of an ill developed ego. For many years this phenomenon has occupied the minds of historians, philosophers and, more recently, psychologists and sociologists.

By the 1950s, the phenomenon of authoritarianism commitment dissociated from its environmental context. It was now viewed as a manifestation of particular personality types. It was a prejudicial act or ideological construct that was divorced from the particular situation and the respective ethnic, religious or racial group or groups involved. Only with the concern of psychologists and sociologists was there anything approximating an expression of a universal characteristic: the need for an insecure individual to direct their hatred and frustration arising from disillusionment, feeling of inferiority, rejection, etc. to the outside, adhering to a particular external object – be it belief or cause.

The Precursors

This new interest elicited in the· social scientists was largely the result of the witness of two major world conflicts. Within a span of thirty years—conflict which served as rationalizations for some of the most brutal and inhumane acts committed by man in his long evolution. These events abruptly destroyed the psychologists’ previous conceptions of man as a being driven purely by instinctual, libidinal needs, or at the other extreme, of man as a purely rational being.

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