Home Personal Psychology Personality THE AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY I: PRELIMINARY PERSPECTIVES AND STUDIES

THE AUTHORITARIAN PERSONALITY I: PRELIMINARY PERSPECTIVES AND STUDIES

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Man is indeed not purely instinctual, yet it is precisely those refined noninstinctual capacities which he uniquely possesses—that is. his ability to reason, which he distorts and so adroitly applies against himself. Man, given the freedom to transcend and evaluate the time-space continuum, experiences the anxiety accompanying this freedom —the experiential “abyss” or Angst which existentialists so vividly describe—and seeks to escape from his freedom via total obedience or commitment to a state, cause or other belief-disbelief system. Freud attempted to account for this phenomenon by means of a death instinct, Thanatos; later theorists (Fromm, Sartre, and Hoffer), however, .attributed it instead to an “authoritarian” personality syndrome.

Erich Fromm

The most influential and extensive of these theoretical studies was made by the neo-Freudian, Eric Fromm. According to Fromm, man’s prime mechanism of escape from freedom is the abdication of one’s self-independence and the “symbiotic” fusion of one’s self with somebody or something outside o:f oneself in order-to acquire the strength which the individual self is lacking. These “secondary bonds” substituted for primary bonds, are most commonly found in the striving for submission and domination, i.e. masochism and sadism.

The sado-masochistic symbiosis, or union of beings, is the basis for the “inhibiting” or “irrational” authoritarianism which is to be differentiated from rational acceptance of authority. The latter form of authority-acceptance, an inter-personal relationship in which one person, justifiably, looks upon another as somebody superior to himself, is a productive inequality which. tends to dissolve itself as the subordinate gains strength or knowledge from the superordinate. The irrational type, on the other hand, is characterized by an exploitive relationship in which distance between super- and sub-ordinant be­ comes intensified through its long duration. In the rational situation love, admiration, and gratitude are prevalent, in the 1rrat1onal, resentment, hostil1ty (e1ther overt or repressed) and anxiety are evident. An acceptance – even worship – of fate, and a belief in magical helpers are frequently concurrent with this sadomasochism.

A strong, irrationa1¢onscience (the ‘super-ego of Freud) is also attributable to the authoritarian syndrome. The authoritarian’s radical obedience of- authority becomes internalized in response to a threat of rejection by the authority, while his feeling of personal productiveness ..,,,-which is the source of his strength, freedom, and happiness – and his assertion of will are repressed under the force of guilt. Such an internalization of authority – a much more efficient and less costly form of control than external authority—is, according to Fromm, a profoundly influential result, if not objective, of Protestantism, having only lost its eminence in recent years in lieu of the “anonymous” authority of “market-orientation” or societal adjustment.

Jean Paul Sartre

A second major work of the post-World War II era., Anti-Semite and Jew, was written not by a social scientist but by a versatile man of literature and philosophy Jean Paul Sartre. This essay created a tremendous stir in France in 1946 largely through its very incisive portrayal of the French anti-Semite: a man obsessed by a savage “passion”. This is a passion which is transformed into the hostility directed against the Jew and into the inherent sense of physical repulsion toward the Jew which ”enters the body from the mind.” Furthermore, Sartre states that if the Jew did not exist, the anti-Semite would invent him, thus attempting, as Fromm did, to disassociate the antisemitic feeling from the particular ideological content. ‘While not empirical in itself, this sort of analy1ais is conducive to such endeavors.

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