Authoritarian Leaders, Political & Otherwise

Authoritarian Leaders, Political & Otherwise

In our current political/cultural/domestic environments worldwide, we can better understand leaders and dominant partners through the lens of authoritarian leaders and authoritarian personality types.

A review of a seminal book on dictators , The Authoritarian Personality (Levinson et.al., 1951) states:

"Bringing together the findings of psychoanalysis and social science, this book grew out of an urgent commitment to study the origins of anti-Semitism in the aftermath of Hitler's Germany. First published in 1951, it was greeted as a monumental study blazing new trails in the investigation of prejudice. As offshoots of ethnocentrism, anti-semitism and fascism cast new and dark shadows on the world, the topic again demands study and social action. ' The Authoritarian Personality' remains an important document for our time." (Retrieved on Amazon, 9/28/2016).

The concept of the "authoritarian personality" was based on writings by Erich Fromm and included studies focusing on prejudice within a psychoanalytic/psychosocial framework (Freudian and Frommian).

Levinson wrote, "Since compliance depends on whether the leader is perceived as being both powerful and knowing, the ever-watchful and all-powerful leader and his invisible but observant and powerful instruments, such as secret police, can be invoked in the same way as an unobservable but omniscient God....Similarly, the pomp and ceremony surrounding such an individual make him more admirable and less like the common..., increasing both his self-confidence and the confidence of his subjects. The phenomenon is found not only with individual leaders, but with entire movements."

The Authoritarian Power Dynamic

The following is adapted from Take Back Your Life, Recovering From Cults and Abusive Relationships , Lalich and Tobias (2006)

The purpose of a cult, movement, or abusive relationship is to serve the emotional, financial, sexual, and power needs of the leader or dominant partner. The single most important word here is power. The dynamic formed in abusive relationships is based on a power imbalance. The cult or authoritarian leader and dominant partner by definition must have an authoritarian personality in order to fulfill his/her half of the power dynamic.

Traditional elements of authoritarian personalities include the following:

  • the tendency to hierarchy
  • the drive for power (and wealth)
  • hostility, hatred, prejudice
  • superficial judgments of people and events
  • a one-sided scale of values favoring the one in power
  • interpreting kindness as weakness
  • the tendency to use people and see others as inferior
  • a sadistic-masochistic tendency
  • incapability of being ultimately satisfied
  • paranoia

Found on Wikipedia , the Authoritarian Personality (Retrieved 9/28/2016):

"In regards to child development, the formation of the authoritarian type occurs within the first few years of the person's life, strongly shaped by the parents and family structure. "Hierarchical, authoritarian, exploitative" parent-child relationships may result in this personality type (Adorno et al., 1950, pp. 482–484). Parents who have a need for domination, and who dominate and threaten the child harshly, and demand obedience to conventional behaviors with threats, foster the characteristics of this personality. In addition, the parents have a preoccupation with social status, and communicate this to the child in terms of rigid and externalized rules. The child then suffers from suppressed feelings of resentment and aggression towards the parents, who are instead, idealized with reverence. "

"Alfred Adler provided another perspective, linking the 'will to power over others' as a central neurotic trait, usually emerging as aggressive over-compensation for felt and dreaded feelings of inferiority and insignificance. According to this view, the authoritarian's need to maintain control and prove superiority over others is rooted in a worldview populated by enemies and empty of equality, empathy, and mutual benefit."


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