The "antidemocratic personality" revisited: A cross-national investigation of working-class authoritarianism

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More than 60 years ago, psychologists identified a potential threat to democracy from within, namely the "antidemocratic personality" arising from the "authoritarian syndrome." It was soon discovered that the problem of authoritarianism was especially acute among those who were low in education and income, and that it was associated with intolerance toward others. However, several important questions were left unresolved. We revisit fundamental theoretical and empirical questions concerning the existence and nature of "working-class authoritarianism," focusing especially on four psychological aspects of authoritarianism, namely, conventionalism, moral absolutism, obedience to authority, and cynicism. In a cross-national investigation involving respondents from 19 democratic countries, we find that all four aspects of authoritarianism are indeed related to moral and ethnic intolerance. However, only obedience to authority and cynicism are especially prevalent among those who are low in socioeconomic status. Conventionalism and moral absolutism were significant predictors of economic conservatism, whereas obedience to authority and cynicism were not. We find no support for Lipset's (1960) claim that working-class authoritarianism would be associated with economic liberalism. Instead, we find that authoritarianism is linked to right-wing orientation in general and that intolerance mediates this relationship. Implications for electoral politics and political psychology are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)595-617
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Social Issues
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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