Authoritarian people cast a long shadow that takes the light out of many everyday situations. Be it on a family, professional or political level, this personality profile is associated with clearly identifiable behavior because these people use and abuse power. Prejudice and the need to dominate others prevail in their minds. In addition, they are cynical, intolerant and love double standards.
The study of authoritarian personality intensified shortly after the end of World War II and the Holocaust. In a social context that was so utterly shattered, the academic world couldn’t help but wonder how racism, prejudice, and authoritarianism could get strong enough to make it this far in the world.
One of the most representative personalities of this scientific, psychological and philosophical movement was undoubtedly Theodor W. Adorno. He drew on the theories of Erich Fromm and a thorough analysis of the anti-Semitic ideology and anti-democratic movements of the time. In his studies, the authoritarian personality was clearly defined and delimited in a psychoanalytic and psychosocial framework.
It may well be that some readers now assume that the premises created by Adorno would no longer apply because times and circumstances have of course changed. But we shouldn’t go that far. Authoritarian people and lust for power, be it on a political level or in your own four walls with a mother or a father of an intolerant family, have always existed and always will be.
Ultimately, an authoritarian character and this blind quest for domination are like a seed that will never stop growing in certain people. This is a psychological profile that we encounter all too often and that we should be able to recognize. In fact, authoritarianism is also a central issue in current political events in Europe.
In the following we would like to take a closer look at the main characteristics of authoritarian people.
“Pride is a handicap that affects poor mortals who suddenly find themselves with pathetic power.”
José de San Martín
1. Blind loyalty to certain values, customs and ideals
Authoritarian people categorize the world with the simplicity and rigidity of a five-year-old child. Things are “good” or “bad” and those who share the same views, values and opinions are on the right track. But anyone who shows a different perspective is a potential enemy.
In addition, it often happens that an authoritarian person has precisely defined what, for example, “a good person”, “a good father”, “a good child” or “a good woman” is for him or her. Their political leanings, religion, or even their favorite team are like holy temples that others must respect and worship with the same reverence.
2. Authoritarian people and their ethnocentrism
Mine is always the best. Not only my country, my culture and my language are the best of all, but the only thinkable and acceptable.
This attitude and this mental scheme lead to discriminatory and abusive behaviors, practices laden with dangerous prejudices in order to reject and despise what is “different” that does not correspond to these narrow-minded schemes.
3. Culture of fear
With the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, we undoubtedly have infinite examples of many of the dimensions mentioned above: racism, ethnocentrism, nationalist ideals, etc. Even during the campaign, the former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox, described in blunt Language what Trump embodies in his opinion: an authoritarian personality who exercises power through fear. Anyone who came from outside the borders of US territory was a threat, and therefore it was necessary to stir up this fear, this rejection of the “other”, whatever it was.
The same thing happens in many other areas, especially at the family and partnership level. Where authoritarian people make use of threats or the representation of catastrophes without hesitation in order to feed the fear of their fellow human beings and thus usurp the rule.
4. My successes are always better than yours
It doesn’t matter what you’re particularly good at, what you’ve studied or what hobby you have, because authoritarian people always try to stand above you on the podium. The strategies they used to achieve this are based on an extremely devious and aggressive disdain.
If you have many titles, they will tell you that you lack experience, experience that authoritarian persons naturally have in every respect. If you do your job well and are proficient at it, they will try to devalue you by making you do tasks that are inconsistent with your abilities because that personality profile doesn’t want anyone other than themselves to stand out.
5. Aggressive leadership style
We all know that authoritarian people like to assume a position of power and want to rule over others, be it within the family, in work or in politics. But their leadership style is by no means democratic and does not rely on the foundations of emotional intelligence to nurture human capital, which favors a harmonious, trusting and mutually supportive climate, which increases productivity and promotes happiness. The opposite is true here.
An authoritarian boss is aggressive, not compassionate, just wants to meet his own needs, and has very little tolerance for frustration. This leads to the fact that he is unable to see the needs of others and even often goes against them, because in his eyes it is weaknesses and sentimentalities that should be avoided.
6. Prejudice and narrow-minded thinking
The saying goes that it is more difficult to break a prejudice than to split an atom. That is absolutely the truth and is also a characteristic of authoritarian people. Unfortunately, you have a very limited horizon that allows no other point of view than your own, no other belief than your own and no other opinion than that which the authoritarian person has at some point formed himself or which he has adopted from others.
Prejudice and narrow-minded thinking are the termites of our society; Dimensions that reduce our ability to create a good coexistence, social respect and, basically, a more democratic and dignified world for all.
Prejudice and narrow-minded thinking are the termites of our society.
7. Weak arguments
Authoritarian people live in a sea of sheer superficiality. At first sight, they urge us to do something, and they may even frighten us. They are usually placed on a high pedestal, we already know that. But the foundation that sustains them is so weak that all we have to do is listen to their arguments to discover that behind them is a simple mind, an empty mind with no arguments, ideas, or solid reasoning.
Their personal universe is limited to defending what for them is the universal truth. However, it is often enough to challenge them with specific arguments to undo this approach on which they build their ideology.
The biggest problem with the authoritarian personality, however, is that the root of simplistic thinking can be aggression. Hence, it is common for authoritarian people to behave in the worst possible way when they feel threatened or put in a more inferior position.
Therefore, and with that we come to the end of this article, it is always wise to know that this type of person should be treated with care. Keeping a reasonable distance is the best strategy and way to protect our own psychological and emotional integrity. We should also learn to recognize an authoritarian personality not only in order to defend ourselves against it, but also to avoid us not joining him and expanding this meaningless power that can jeopardize the noblest values of our society.
Adorno, TW (1950) The Authoritarian Personality – Nueva York: Harper.
Martin, JL (2001) The Authoritarian Personality , 50 Years Later: What Questions Arise for Political Psychology? – Political Psychology 22 (1), 1-26.
Altemeyer, B. (1988) Enemies of Freedom: Understanding Right-Wing Authoritarianism – San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Dean, J. (2006) Conservatives Without Conscience – Nueva York: Viking Press.