avi tuschman and the case of the missing left-wing authoritar- ianism

remember avi tuschman‘s Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us that i posted about a couple of months ago? and remember how i said that, in large part, he based his theory on what causes the differences between liberals and conservatives on results from what’s known as right-wing authoritarianism (rwa) studies, while at the same time he failed to take into account studies on left-wing authoritarianism?

in case you don’t remember, i said in that previous post:

“i’m sorry, but i can’t help but think that authoritarianism — including personality types that favor authoritarianism — also occurs on the left. a ten-second google search shows me that left-wing authoritarianism has both been researched and found to exist — something which tuschman, unfortunately, doesn’t mention in the book.”

the first two papers i found on left-wing authoritarianism were: The Presence of Left-Wing Authoritarianism in Western Europe and Its Relationship with Conservative Ideology and Left-wing authoritarianism is not a myth, but a worrisome reality. Evidence from 13 Eastern European countries. (more about both of them in the previous post.)

avi responded [my emphasis]:

“The three components of RWA that Altemeyer came up with (including submission and aggression) are NOT the same ones that I use in my analysis, although I did mention his thinking in one place in Ch. 4 where I describe how he developed the test. My own breakdown of the content on his test (shown in the chart above, without the words ‘submission’ or ‘aggression’) is a fresh analysis, and the clusters I’ve described are much more in-line with the underlying statistical factors that emerged from a meta-analysis of 88 studies on multiple political-orientation tests given around the world (including RWA).”

in the book, avi suggests that the political sentiments measured by the right-wing authoritarianism test can be broken down into three broad categories which he defines, and how you feel about the issues related to these categories predicts whether you are liberal or conservative. his three categories (which i described in the previous post) are:

“- Tribalism. Tribalism breaks down into ethnocentrism (vs. the opposite force, xenophilia, which means an attraction to other groups), religiosity (vs. secularism), and different levels of tolerance toward nonreproductive sexuality.

“- Tolerance of Inequality. There are two opposing moral worldviews toward inequality; one is based on the principle of egalitarianism, and the other is based on hierarchy.

“- Perceptions of Human Nature. Some people see human nature as more cooperative, while others see it as more competitive.”

and according to avi, as he claimed in the comment i quoted above, these three categories of his are “in-line” with this meta-analysis of eighty-eight studies conducted “around the world”. here’s what he says about that meta-analysis in the book [from chapter 5 – links and emphases added by me]:

“This breakdown of political ideology coincides very well with independent research conducted by a multidisciplinary team from Stanford University, UC Berkeley, and the University of Maryland, College Park. These professors carried out a meta-analysis of studies on political orientation in North America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and New Zealand. The eighty-eight studies they evaluated covered nearly twenty-three thousand individuals who took various types of political tests between 1958 and 2002. These tests included the F-scale, RWA, several other political-conservatism scales, economic-conservatism scales, self-reported ideological positions, issue opinions, and voting records.

“After analyzing all of the data, the team concluded that the ‘two relatively stable, core dimensions that seem to capture the most meaningful and enduring differences between liberal and conservative ideologies’ are: (1) ‘attitudes toward social change versus tradition’ and (2) ‘attitudes toward inequality.’ The analysis showed that, although these two factors are ‘often related to one another,’ they are ‘obviously distinguishable.’

“The meta-study’s first dimension clearly corresponds to the grey cluster (tribalism) in figure 10 [see fig. 10 here – h.chick]. The second dimension [avi’s “tolerance of inequality” – h.chick] is the same as the black cluster. What about the white cluster? The debate over the nature of human nature is the ancient subject of political philosophy, which stretches back for millennia. The problem of human nature has also been studied extensively in its own right by political psychologists and evolutionary biologists, who have made valuable discoveries about this core political topic. Moreover, the white cluster overlaps substantially with both the grey and the black clusters; we’ll explore the relationship between them later on.”

ok. so what about this meta-study of these eighty-eight studies conducted around the world? i looked it up:

Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition [pdf]

here’s what the authors of the paper had to say about the eighty-eight studies at which they looked [pg. 14]:

“The data for our review come from 38 journal articles, 1 monograph, 7 chapters from books or annual volumes, and 2 conference papers involving 88 different samples studied between 1958 and 2002. Some of the original data are derived from archival sources, including speeches and interviews given by politicians and opinions and verdicts rendered by judges, whereas others are taken from experimental, field, or survey studies. The total number of research participants and individual cases is 22,818 (see Table 1). The data come from 12 different countries, with 59 of the samples (or 67% of the total) coming from the United States. The remaining samples were studied in England (n=8), New Zealand (4), Australia (3), Poland (3), Sweden (2), Germany (2), Scotland (2), Israel (2), Italy (1), Canada (1), and South Africa (1). Sixty percent of the samples are exclusively composed of college or university student populations, but they account for only 37% of the total number of research participants included in our review. The remaining samples include family members, high school students, student teachers, adult extension students, nonstudent adults, professionals, politicians, judges, political activists, and religious ministers.

jost - table 1


apart from israel and poland, all of the countries here are in western europe or are offshoots of western europe (the u.s.a., for example). and the ONE south african study was conducted on white afrikaaner students [pg. 363 in article]. 20,863 out of the 22,818 total number of participants — a full 91% of the total — were from anglo nations (australia, canada, england, new zealand, scotland, united states)!! this meta-study is NOT cross-cultural by any stretch of the imagination. where’s eastern europe (where left-wing authoritarianism has actually been found)? where’s asia (where only 4.3+ billion people live)? where’s latin america?

this is not a meta-analysis of studies conducted “around the world.” this is a meta-analysis of studies conducted on mostly w.e.i.r.d. individuals in the anglo world. which is interesting, but might not tell us much about the rest of the world.

in his comment to the previous post, avi also said:

“There are many places in the book that discuss political extremism on the left. However, the chapter that describes what you’ve referred to as left-wing authoritarianism is Ch. 22, ‘The Altruism That Isn’t: Self-Deception among People and Politicians.’ This chapter explains why extreme left-wing regimes have authoritarian properties. Although when I use the word authoritarian in this context, I’m referring to the structure of left-wing dictatorships. Explaining why these leaders and their regimes violate the egalitarian ideologies that they supposedly espouse is a fascinating question that deserves its own chapter. Leaders (especially dictators) can of course have different interests than followers, even when they ostensibly share an ideology. So measuring tolerance toward inequality in public opinion is different than explaining how dictators behave.

in chapter 22, avi says:

“The Self-Deception of Leaders on the Extreme Left

“Extreme left-wing ideologies typically espouse radical egalitarianism. Yet in practice, Communist governments are famous for their authoritarian dictators. The hierarchy of Communist regimes presents an especially glaring moral hypocrisy. But this hierarchy has a function, which is to serve the self-interest of the dictator; without the protection of hierarchy, the leader wouldn’t be able to remain on *top*.

“In order to maintain popular support, however, left-wing dictators must continue towing a leftist ideology that exalts egalitarianism. Doing so successfully is easier with self-deception. After all, leftist revolutionary leaders would not command so much self-sacrifice from their followers if the followers suspected that their leaders had nefarious plans to sabotage the party’s ideals once in power….”

avi claims that sometimes (oftentimes!) left-wing leaders hijack their movements once they get into power and use their positions at the top for their own ends. sure. that’s pretty obvious. but then he suggests that the leaders need to deceive their followers about things like equality in their new society in order to maintain their position — i.e. the leaders have to pretend that they’re not at the top of any sort of hierarchy, but really just one among equals in society:

“Dictators of the extreme left often try to present a ‘first among equals’ image to obscure the fact that they sit on top of a steep hierarchy. To convince others (and perhaps themselves) that they are merely *primus inter pares*, these leaders are fond of wearing modest clothes. Some wear simple army fatigues. Others, such as Fidel Castro or Hugo Chavez, were also known for donning tracksuits.

“Leftist dictators occasionally use titles to brandish their supposed anti-hierarchical credentials. Colonel Gaddafi’s official title was ‘Brotherly Leader’ of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Rather than taking titles such as president, prime minister, or king, some Communist leaders have assumed the role of ‘chairman’ or ‘secretary,’ suggesting a first-among-equals status on a council.”

but then avi has a hard time explaining this:

“The egalitarian ideal, however, belies a much more hierarchical reality. Indeed, leader worship pervades the cultures of extreme-leftist regimes. Vietnam’s Marxist-Leninist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh is referred to simply as ‘Uncle Hồ.’ Yet an almost god-like personality cult has sprung up around him in the Communist country. Hundreds of people constantly line up to pay homage to his embalmed body at a mausoleum in Hanoi. And an image of Ho Chi Minh appears on every denomination of đồng banknotes circulating in Vietnam.”

the reason he has a hard time explaining this is, i think, because he overlooks the existence of left-wing authoritarianism. the most parsimonious explanation for why many left-wing movements in places like venezuela and vietnam and russia wind up with authoritarian leaders is not (only) that the leaders hijack the movements and subsequently lie to their peoples, but rather because left-wingers in these non-western places are left-wing authoritarians themselves. they want strong leaders — or strong governments, anyway — that will take care of everyone.

but avi hasn’t considered that many left-wingers in some populations might have authoritarian traits, because he’s only looked at studies of authoritarianism in the west — primarily in the anglo world — and, yes, most left wingers in the west don’t seem to have authoritarian traits. only extreme leftists in the west — members of communist/stalinist parties — seem to exhibit such traits (at least according to studies so far). on the other hand, left wingers in eastern europe DO exhibit authoritarian traits — see for example Left-wing authoritarianism is not a myth, but a worrisome reality. Evidence from 13 Eastern European countries.

who knows? researchers might find more left-wing authoritarianism in other parts of the world, too — if they bother looking.

previously: our political nature and authoritarianism

(note: comments do not require an email. hi there!)


  1. Hans Eysenck got in trouble for suggesting that authoritarianism was not confined to the right:

    Hans Eysenck began researching political attitudes in Great Britain. He believed that there was something existentially similar about the National Socialists or Nazis on the one hand, and the Communists on the other, despite their opposite positions on the left–right axis. Political spectrum

    The trouble is, authoritarianism is a bad thing. So can the term be applicable to people like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Karl Marx et al?


  2. “- Perceptions of Human Nature. Some people see human nature as more cooperative, while others see it as more competitive.”

    I wonder if this might correlate strongly with one’s androgen exposure in the womb. The ‘people are cooperative’ belief strikes me as feminine, where the competitive understanding of human nature is quite masculine. People do love to generalize to everyone based on their own thinking.


  3. I’m so glad I waited for your judgment before buying this book : )

    The French say the more something changes, the more it stays the same. When you take away one hierarchy another takes its place. When you take away religion you get a cult of the leader.

    The real divide in politics (and basic human nature) is between Northwestern Europeans and the rest. The rest of the world is actually pretty authoritarian regardless of what they call their political models. They’ve been looking to the West for inspiration because of the wealth created rather than for the underlying ideas that created the wealth. Now many look to China – wealth without that WEIRDness that they never liked anyway.


  4. Is very obvious that us to be talking about a spectrum, continuum of traits with their respective middle and extremes. Left wingers are like inverse mirror than right wingers, but the extremes are the same, both are authoritarians because we talking about the full transcendence of their respective natures. The culture is a expression of behaviour phenotypes of human populations. I think that psychotic traits related both to realism and to bio-cultural constructionism (dogma systems) which are the exaggeration of some perceptions (based on personality traits). The glass is not half full or hall empty, it to be ever overflow. The true is a sum of all parts and the all never will only some parts than others. However, we have to take into account that our perceptions aren’t the same perceptions of this people. They have different minds (specially left wing), the reality is not what it is (sum of all parts), but what they want. These people do not have brain capable to connect divergent parts to composed the all, the true. Leave them to command nations is like leave schizophrenic individual without medication go around the world.


  5. The economist Arnold Kling recently wrote a critical review of Tuschman’s book. I’ve read the book, completely agree with Kling, and can recommend his review to anyone interested in either Tuschman’s book, or in the broader trend of pseudo-scientific arguments claiming to demonstrate that conservatism is a personality disorder.

    Here’s the URL for Kling’s review


  6. “left-wingers in these non-western places are left-wing authoritarians themselves.”

    Does non-authoritarianism exist in non-WEIRD societies? Or is *everyone* not in WEIRD country an authoritarian by anglospherical standards?


  7. Staffan, that’s a strong statement, but I have to consider it possible.

    As for the post, I wrote a great deal about the Arts & Humanities Tribe – which is now quite leftist – over the first few years of my blog. I have marveled that their tribalism is so opaque to them, and Tuschman shows the same thing here, defining tribalism only along lines that will identify right-wing tribes, then concluding that they must be the only ones on the basis of his selection. Leftie tribalism is more subtle, but not THAT much more subtle. Some anosognosia is at play here, and I have only guessed why.

    There is a similar problem with defining the left by its egalitarianism. He has got to be kidding. Where is the egalitarianism in a people who valorise miners and the urban poor but sneeringly sing “Little Boxes?” Or look down on those NASCAR fans? The last thing they want is equality. I used to be a lefty. I know how they talk amongst themselves, thanks.


  8. I read a (horrifying) book called “Life and Death in Shanghai” (http://www.amazon.com/Life-Death-Shanghai-Nien-Cheng-ebook/dp/B004FGMSGO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392104401&sr=1-1&keywords=life+and+death+in+shanghai)

    Communist China. She describes how they tried to “break” her, as she had previously worked for a foreign company (before the Chi-coms took over). They were ruthless. The people who conducted these sessions–far far from being leaders–used techniques like trying force her to admit to things that weren’t true, often in the presence of others (struggle meetings, I believe they were called). The leaders of these sessions kind of reminded me of descriptions of leaders of sessions trying to force college students they possessed “white privilege”. They couldn’t go as far, of course, but it was the same personality type. Bullying, positive of their righteousness.

    Left wing authoritarians? Could be. The troops of the movement.

    Focussing on the leaders is sometimes not helpful, many are opportunists who really want power.

    Memoirs of people who survived ordeals under communism can be quite insightful.


  9. http://murderbymedia.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/the-catechism-of-the-jew-in-the-former-soviet-union/

    I do not know if you will accept this link, but it is interesting. Know that the description of the author of the text for the ‘average Russian’ can fit for Europeans. (I need not mention the level of stupidity where I stand).
    I thought I’d get angry and send a curse ‘anti-kazharian’, but I thought” And it’s not that he’s right? ”
    I see this in my own family. My parents are technically smart but has brains” primitive”. They are not deep thinkers.


  10. If Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and just about every post-colonial leader in Africa leads you to believe authoritarianism is a “right-wing” phenomenon, you have a very unusual definition of “right-wing.” I put it in quotes because I hate the term as it is meaningless. The whole in-group/out-group model is useful only if you are in a cult. For the rest of us it is a useless term.

    It is interesting that all these years after the CML still goes for the mental illness ploy when railing against the people on the other side of the wall. But, the internal logic of mass movements seems to be universal. They build up a laundry list of derogatory terms to describe the undifferentiated other on the other side of the wall.


  11. Yes, say what you will, but fascists usually just haul off and execute you. Communists have to get you to confess, and agree that your execution is just, and that you deserve it. Eric Hoffer called this “soul raping” and the ChiComs were particularly good at it. Sickening.


  12. @AVI “As for the post, I wrote a great deal about the Arts & Humanities Tribe – which is now quite leftist – over the first few years of my blog. I have marveled that their tribalism is so opaque to them, and Tuschman shows the same thing here, defining tribalism only along lines that will identify right-wing tribes, then concluding that they must be the only ones on the basis of his selection.”

    It really jumps out at you, doesn’t it? My first reaction was, “Are you kidding me?” Defining “tribalism” so that the only outgroups are “right wing” outgroups is beyond absurd. The guy needs to go to Kos or one of the other lefty blogs and look at the comment section. Whenever these people are discussing conservatives, the spittle almost literally flies out of the screen at you. The Tuschman’s of the world are always blind to that particular variant of tribalism.

    @Toddy Cat “Yes, say what you will, but fascists usually just haul off and execute you. Communists have to get you to confess, and agree that your execution is just, and that you deserve it. Eric Hoffer called this “soul raping” and the ChiComs were particularly good at it.”

    Orwell does a great analysis in “1984.” The Communists didn’t quite perfect the process. Perfection means you not only confess, but “You love Big Brother.”


  13. “Extreme left-wing ideologies typically espouse radical egalitarianism”

    Khmer Rouge Cambodia was – easily – the most egalitarian society there has ever been. They took egalitarianism as far as shooting people simply because they could read and write. They abolished money. They abolished cities. They even tried to abolish the family. Compared to the Khmer Rouge, the trust-fund anarchist lefties interviewed by Avi Tuschman are virtually Romney Republicans.

    From an HBD perspective, the Khmer Rouge tried the only policy which might have actually produced a truly egalitarian society – the systematic murder of everyone of above average intelligence. Even then, smart people who could dissimulate stupidity may have had better survival prospects than stupid people who inadvertently signalled smartness to their Khmer Rouge inquisitors.

    Khmer Rouge policies were so extreme, it was impossible for the party’s leaders to enjoy any kind of luxurious “Bond villain” premium lifestyle. All a senior Khmer Rouge figure had over his terrified underlings was a slightly better food ration and guns.


  14. Josip Borz TITO
    Dictator of Yugoslavia after WW2
    was both Left-Wing (communist) and a Dictator (authoritarian)

    In modern society I would say
    RWA comes from an individual
    LWA comes from mob rule
    – (culture, political correctness, limiting of freedom of though)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s