[…] The Authoritarian Personality, by defining prejudice as a "social disease," substituted a medical for a political idiom and relegated a broad range of controversial issues to the clinic - to "scientific" study as opposed to philosophical and political debate.

This procedure had the effect of making it unnecessary to discuss moral and political questions on their merits.

Thus "resistance to social change," "traditionalism," and the absence of the ability or disposition "actively to criticize existing authority” became pathological by definition. The tendency to see political issues "in moral rather than sociological terms” fell under the same suspicion. A perception of the world as a jungle, a belief in strict sex roles, a "rigid” sexual morality, a “punitive" and "moralistic" style of child rearing, and a "rigid adherence to existing cultural norms" identified the authoritarian "syndrome" and could therefore be dismissed without arguing the pros and cons of these positions or considering the possibility that many people, for example, may have had good reason to hold a "conception of a threatening and dangerous environment” or to reject a middle-class conception of easygoing parental discipline.

The Authoritarian Personality revealed more about the enlightened prejudices of the professional classes than about authoritarian prejudices among the common people.

The authors found evidence of "authoritarian submission” in an affirmative answer to the proposition that "science has its place, but there are many important things that can never possibly be understood by the human mind." They saw "authoritarian aggression" in the belief that "an insult to our honor must always be punished" or that “if people would talk less and work more, everybody would be better off.” They detected "anti-intraception" in the view that "nowadays more and more people are prying into matters that should remain personal and private."

By identifying the “liberal personality" as the antithesis of the authoritarian personality, they equated mental health with an approved political position.

They defended liberalism not on the grounds that liberal policies served the ends of justice and freedom but on the grounds that other positions had their roots in personal pathology. They enlarged the definition of liberalism to include a critical attitude toward all forms of authority, faith in science, relaxed and nonpunitive child-rearing practices, and flexible conceptions of sex roles. This expansive, largely cultural definition of liberalism made it easy to interpret adherence to liberalism as a "psychological matter."

The replacement of moral and political argument by reckless psychologizing not only enabled Adorno and his collaborators to dismiss unacceptable opinions on medical grounds; it led them to set up an impossible standard of political health-one that only members of a self-constituted cultural vanguard could consistently meet. In order to establish their emotional "autonomy," the subjects of their research had to hold the right opinions and also to hold them deeply and spontaneously. They had to show a professorial capacity for “critical analysis.” It was not enough to have liberal ideas; one had to have a liberal personality.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.452-4

Generalizations about the “role of personality in the formation of social beliefs," in the words of Herbert McClosky, served to put objectionable beliefs beyond the pale of political debate and to justify the contention that educated elites were the best guardians of democracy.

Drawing on Eric Hoffer's study of the "true believer" as well as on The Authoritarian Personality, McClosky traced political conservatism to "psychological rigidity." A belief in man's wickedness, in the need for strong social controls, and in the stabilizing influence of the family and the church derived from unhealthy "psychological impulses," "projections of aggressive personality tendencies."

As "doctrinal expressions of a personality pattern," such ideas did not have to be discussed on their merits.

They appealed to the wrong sort of people, suspect on socioeconomic as well as on psychological grounds: "the uninformed, the poorly educated, ... the less intelligent, ... the more backward and frightened elements of the population." The “articulate and informed classes," on the other hand, were “preponderantly liberal in their outlook" and accordingly constituted the major repositories of the public conscience." They alone, it appeared, were capable of "reasoning out and forming attitudes on complex social questions” in a "purely disinterested way and of rising above the “ideological babble of poorly informed and discordant opinions.”


Workers believed that "big business is running this country," Robert Lane noted. Instead of asking himself whether there was any truth in this perception, Lane explained it as the product of a "cabalistic” mentality or "usurpation complex." Subject to "whim and impulse," workers adopted conspiracy theories as a "counterweight to the chaotic forces of drift and change welling up in anarchic fashion within themselves.”

Lane's Political Ideology, widely regarded as the leading study of political alienation, reduced working-class discontent to personal pathology. Lane wondered why workers did not see the President or Congress as running things," instead of attributing so much power to big business. The explanation, he decided, was that people with an underdeveloped "ego or self" demanded an image of "absolute power” that was “clearly hard to find in Congress or the President." Only a handful of Lane's subjects, "free of cabalist thinking," realistically perceived power as "generally shared and limited" and respected "legitimate power as superior to and containing ... the power of private groups."

As in The Authoritarian Personality, liberal ideology in this case, the dogma that political power in the United States was distributed so evenly among a plurality of interest groups that none achieved overweening influence - furnished the standard of mental health.

[Christopher Lasch]
The True and Only Heaven, p.463-4

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