15 November 2016
This past March, I wrote about authoritarianism as an addiction. Today I see it more as the seduction of fearful people so afraid of a changing world that they lose their ability to think objectively, wallow in feelings of powerlessness; and surrender their brains and muscles to authoritarian charlatans. The seduction is widespread, around around the globe, in civil society and in religious institutions.
This week I am repeating elements of my earlier reflection, because I find it particularly appropriate this November, and as we look ahead to events in January.
Yes authoritarianism is hardly a new phenomenon. We saw it earlier in repressive political regimes in Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain, and the Croatian ustasha movement.
Researchers still debate the causes of authoritarianism. The public and institutional behavior of authoritarian leaders and their followers, however, is rather clear-cut.
Authoritarianism is very seductive; and, just like drug dealers and their “clients,” authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers promote authoritarian addiction. It happens when followers stop thinking for themselves and submit to the emotional rhetoric of narcissistic authoritarian leaders.
Authoritarian followers are highly submissive to authoritarian leaders and aggressively insist that everyone should behave as dictated by the authority. They are fearful about a changing world and a changing society which they neither understand nor want to understand. They would rather turn the clock back to some imagined golden era. In fact, no golden era was ever that golden; and, in any case, no one can reverse the calendar. The days, for instance, of white male supremacy in the United States are over and gone. White people will soon become the new minority group.
Authoritarian followers don’t question. They obey happily; and they happily denigrate and dismiss people who disagree with them. People seduced by authoritarianism are attracted to strong leaders, who, in often theatrical style, appeal to their feelings of fear and anxiety. They respond aggressively toward “outsides,” be they gays, Mexicans, Muslims, or political refugees. People unknown and different become the enemy.
Authoritarianism becomes even more sinister, when authoritarian leaders begin to proclaim their message in the name of Christianity, and some Christians begin to proclaim authoritarian leaders as protectors of Christian morality.
How authoritarian seduction works:
(1) In their efforts to re-shape society in their own image and likeness, authoritarian leaders feel empowered and compelled to isolate, humiliate, and irradiate those people who are seen as a threat to their existence.
(2) If an authoritarian leader has a narcissistic personality disorder, which is often the case, he or she may come across as conceited, boastful, or pretentious. That leader belittles people who are seen as inferior and problematic.
(3) Authoritarian followers need to conform and belong to their barrel-vision-group. Loyalty to their group ranks among their highest virtues.
(4) All authoritarians go through life with sloppy thinking; and they are slaves to a ferocious dogmatism that blinds them to evidence and logic. As Adolf Hitler reportedly said, “What good fortune for those in power that people do not think.”
There is nothing Christ-like about authoritarian leaders; and there is no Christian virtue in being an authoritarian follower.
In the end, people will grow out of an authoritarian seduction; but not until they begin to feel and to realize that they have been used and abused by phony manipulators of fabricated truths, by people who played games with their hopes and took advantage of their anxieties.
I am optimistic that people will eventually wise up. This process, however, may very well be slow and long.
We need to support one another….. Winter has just begun.