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By: John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.)

The article below was originally written for publication in an academic journal called Political Psychology. The journal was planning a special issue on the topic of psychological authoritarianism and, since I have had more academic articles on that topic (including previous papers in Political Psychology) published than anybody else, it seemed fitting that I contribute an overview of the field. Judged by normal academic criteria (no. of articles on the topic published in academic journals), I am the world's no. 1 expert on the topic. Psychologists are overwhelmingly Leftist in their political leanings, however, so you may see why the paper was NOT accepted for publication in the journal concerned. No matter how good you are, if you express views that are overtly unsympathetic to the Left, these so-called scholars and scientists do not want to hear anything you have to say.

A derivative of this article did however subsequently appear in a conservative intellectual journal: Ray, J.J. (2004) "Explaining the Left/Right divide". "Society", vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 70-78


It is now clear that the authoritarian personality theory of Adorno et al. (1950) has not withstood empirical testing. It remains popular therefore only because of the agreeableness of its conclusions. An alternative theory is presented that attempts to integrate psychology with political history. Ideological Leftism is seen as a desire for constant change that is motivated in most instances by strong ego needs -- principally needs for attention, power and excitement. Leftists generally gain satisfaction of these needs by advocating equality of various sorts and by proposing that an ever-increasing government role in society is needed to ensure equality. This enthusiasm for imposing an ever-widening nimbus of government regulation on all human activity is quintessentially authoritarian. Conservatives, by contrast, are primarily motivated by a desire for individual liberty and a concomitant dislike of government activism so are quintessentially anti-authoritarian.

"Revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon" (Friedrich Engels -- from his controversy with the Anarchists).


The rather obvious insight from Karl Marx's collaborator quoted above -- which associates authoritarianism with Leftism -- seems to have been totally overlooked by psychologists. This is rather surprising when we realize that the tradition of research into psychological authoritarianism traces back to The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford (1950). And the leading author (Adorno) of the study concerned was a prominent Marxist theoretician! One might have thought that a Marxist would have made the quotation mentioned central to his discussion of authoritarianism.

This overlooking of the obvious by the Adorno team was however symptomatic of their whole approach. Apparently, as committed Leftists, they wanted to explain Nazism and Fascism in a way that discredited Rightists rather than Leftists. But the theoretical convolutions required for that were from the outset truly heroic -- considering that Hitler was a socialist rather than a conservative, considering that Mussolini was a prominent Marxist theoretician, considering that Stalin had been a willing ally of Hitler as long as Hitler wanted him and considering that Hitler's most unrelenting enemy was no Leftist but the arch-Conservative Winston Churchill.

Or as Ludwig von Mises wrote in 1944: "The Nazis have not only imitated the Bolshevist tactics of seizing power. They have copied much more. They have imported from Russia the one-party system and the privileged role of this party and its members in public life; the paramount position of the secret police; the organization of affiliated parties abroad which are employed in fighting their domestic governments and in sabotage and espionage, assisted by public funds and the protection of the diplomatic and consular service; the administrative execution and imprisonment of political adversaries; concentration camps; the punishment inflicted on the families of exiles; the methods of propaganda. They have borrowed from the Marxians even such absurdities as the mode of address, party comrade (Parteigenosse), derived from the Marxian comrade (Genosse), and the use of a military terminology for all items of civil and economic life. The question is not in which respects both systems are alike but in which they differ..."

And Hayek had it right long ago too: "Hayek's challenge was to argue that German Nazism was not an aberrant "right-wing" perversion growing out of the "contradictions" of capitalism. Instead, the Nazi movement had developed out of the "enlightened" and "progressive" socialist and collectivist ideas of the pre-World War I era, which many intellectuals in England and the United States had praised and propagandized for in their own countries."

From history, then, the obvious conclusion is that Nazism was simply a racist form of Leftism (Ray, 2002b). How can one make that harmful to conservatives?

But the Adorno group managed their self-imposed and unlikely task after a fashion and the basic conclusions that they produced (that "authoritarianism" underlay Nazism, that authoritarianism also underlies conservatism and that authoritarianism is a "disease") were therefore hardly surprising. Only the generally Left-leaning orientation of social scientists, however, can explain why such a historically and theoretically ridiculous work turned out to be enormously popular and influential among social scientists generally.

Regrettably, however, we have known since Galileo that the popularity of a belief is no guarantee of its truth. And The Authoritarian Personality must hold some sort of record for the amount of criticism and disconfirmatory research that it has attracted. There are various summaries of this body of criticism but the first half of Altemeyer's (1981) book and Ray (1988) give a pretty good idea of it. And what the various criticisms have repeatedly shown is that only the most trivially true contentions of the Adorno theory survive the encounter with empirical testing. The most basic postulates of the theory are just plain wrong.

It must be noted, however, that I am speaking here only of research that sets out to test elements of the Adorno theory. Most research into the Adorno theory reported in the psychological literature assumes the truth of the theory and so the authors concerned tend to fit whatever they find into the theory, by hook or by crook (Ray, 1989 & 1990). And most writers who cite the Adorno work show little or no awareness that there have ever been any serious criticisms of it.

So how do we explain that? How can an extensively disconfirmed theory still be widely accepted and referred to uncritically?

The obvious answer is that psychologists are like people generally: They believe what they want to believe and what it suits them to believe. And facts that run counter to that belief are simply not seen.

But there is more to it than that. It also seems to be true that bad theories are driven out not by disconfirmatory evidence but by better theories. And there has been a clear lack of alternative theories to explain the origins of psychological authoritarianism. The present paper aims therefore to present just such an alternative and hopefully better theory. Ironically, however, the conclusions of the alternative theory are just about the mirror-image of the original theory.


As we have seen, ideas about authoritarianism have been intimately bound up with politics. So our understanding of what politics is all about is crucial to our understanding of authoritarianism. And it has long been my contention that the discussion of authoritarianism among psychologists has suffered from a lack of interdisciplinary sophistication. Psychologists generally give the impression of knowing little about the history of politics. So an essential first step in understanding what psychological authoritarianism is and how it interacts with authoritarianism in politics is to get our understanding of politics straight.

But that is not an easy task. Political studies are arguably as large a field as is psychology and to blend the two is no easy task. And political studies are arguably also much more fractious than psychology. There is little by way of a convenient consensus that a psychologist can latch onto to use for his/her own purposes. So any well-informed discussion of psychological authoritarianism also has to be a discussion not only of political authoritarianism but also of politics and political history generally. And that large task the present paper will attempt in at least an outline way.

And the first task is surely to make sure that we have got straight what is meant by terms such as "Leftist", "conservative" etc.


A problem

The popular press refer to Communists in present day Russia as "conservatives". Yet "conservative" would once have been taken as the antithesis of "Communist". And anyone inferring that conservatives in the USA must also therefore harbour a longing for Stalinism would be rapidly disabused of the notion.

Underlying this confusion is of course the old equation of conservatism with a love of the status quo and a dislike of change and new arrangements. Journalists still implicitly use that hoary formula and, in consequence, quite reasonably refer to both Communists in Russia and anti-Communists in the USA as "conservative". Relative to the different traditions of their respective countries both groups do favour traditional values.

Clearly, however, modern times have thoroughly upset the notion that political Rightists are principally motivated by a love of the status quo. There are political parties in Russia that have similar goals and policies to what we would call the Right in the USA and in other Western countries yet they are clearly heavily reformist in a Russian context rather than defenders of the old Soviet status quo. And in the West as well, the Reagan/Thatcher "revolution" has made Rightists the big advocates of change and cast Leftists into the role of defending the status quo. At this juncture, the obvious conclusion is to say that the status quo clearly now has nothing to do with whether one is a Leftist or a Rightist -- or, more precisely, with what would once always have been called a Leftist or a Rightist in the USA and other Western countries. Whether one advocates change or not will simply reflect whether or not one is satisfied with existing arrangements. Rightists will advocate change in order to tear down welfarism and liberate business and Leftists will advocate change to extend welfare and restrict big business. The status quo, then, no longer has any role in defining one particular side of politics.

A solution

But is that satisfactory? Has everything changed so much overnight? Rightists are still Rightists and Leftists are still Leftists and the Left/Right divisions has been associated for so long with attitude to the status quo that there surely must be something still behind that association. Surely attitude to the status quo cannot have had for so long a defining role and then suddenly vanish from relevance overnight. Can we not salvage something from the traditional view of politics? It is a major purpose of the present paper to suggest that there is still some sense and meaning in the former view.

The suggested solution to the puzzle is to turn the traditional understanding on its head. It is suggested that attitude to change versus the status quo defines the political Left rather than the political Right. It is not conservatives who are FOR the status quo but rather Leftists who are AGAINST it.

Note that this implies that the two sides of politics are not mirror-images of one another. It is suggested that Rightists are simply indifferent to change rather than opposed to it whereas Leftists actively need change. Leftists and Rightists have different rather than opposite goals.

This broad idea that what Leftists basically want does not have to be the exact opposite of what Rightists basically want -- and vice versa -- may seem at first surprising but does have some precedents. Kerlinger (1967) suggested that Leftists and Rightists have different "criterial referents" and even thought that he had found in his survey research a complete lack of opposition between Leftist and Rightist attitudes. Kerlinger's reasoning is interesting but that he misinterpreted his research results has previously been shown in Ray (1980 & 1982). Whether Leftist and Rightist objectives are opposite or just simply different, how Leftists and Rightists go about achieving their different basic objectives certainly generates plenty of conflict and opposition between the two sides.

Whatever Rightists might want, however, wanting to change the existing system is the umbrella under which all "Western" Leftists at all times meet. Even at the long-gone heights of British socialism in pre-Thatcher days, for instance, British Leftists still wanted MORE socialism. That permanent and corrosive dissatisfaction with the world they live in is the main thing that defines people as Leftists. That is the main thing that they have in common. They are extremely fractious and even murderous towards one-another otherwise (e.g. Stalin versus Trotsky). It is in describing his fellow revolutionaries (Kautsky and others) that Lenin himself spoke swingeingly of "the full depth of their stupidity, pedantry, baseness and betrayal of working-class interests" (Lenin, 1952). He could hardly have spoken more contemptuously of the Tsar.

The Rightist, by contrast, generally has no need either for change or its converse. If anything, Rightists favour progress -- both material and social. So when Rightists are conservative (cautious), it is not because of their attitude to change per se. On some occasions they may even agree with the particular policy outcomes that the Leftist claims to desire. When they resist change, then, it is mainly when it appears incautious -- and they are cautious (skeptical of the net benefits of particular policies) generally because of their realism about the limitations (selfishness, folly, shortsightedness, aggressiveness etc.) of many of their fellow humans (Ray, 1972, 1974 & 1981). So it is only vis a vis Leftists that the Right can on some occasions and in some eras appear conservative (cautious about proposals for social change). But I will say more later about what really motivates conservatives.

Leftists do not of course want just any change. In particular, they want change that tends in the direction of tearing down or drastically revising existing authorities, power structures and social arrangements. And this generally takes the form of advocating greater equality between people. What the Leftist ultimately wants in this direction however is fairly heroic in its dimensions and unlikely ever to be fully achieved in at least contemporary Western societies so the Leftist always has a corrosive discontent with the world he lives in and therefore is permanently in a position of wanting change from the way things are. And since any change that Rightists want is in an entirely different direction, the Rightist is commonly cast into the position of the opponent of change. So it is only insofar as the Leftist is in sole charge of the agenda that the Rightist is truly a conservative (opponent of change).

Needless to say, the now blatant failure of Communism and Socialism worldwide -- failures both in humanity and economics -- has now removed the Leftist from that privileged position vis a vis the political agenda and the sort of change that is most to be seen on at least the economic agenda these days is change in a Rightist direction -- which now commonly casts the Leftist into the role of opponent of change.

But, despite that, in the end it was the Leftist's hunger for big changes in society, even revolutionary change, that, from the French revolution onwards, made attitude to change an important differentiator of both people and political parties.

Leftists in Power

This paper started out with an endeavour fairly characteristic of modern Anglo-American analytical philosophy (Hospers, 1967): An endeavour to analyse and make coherent the way terms like "Leftist", "Liberal", "Socialist", "Communist" etc are commonly used. Once an underlying focus for such terms had been "discovered", the psychology underlying that focus was considered. The analysis was however principally of what Leftism/liberalism is in the economically advanced countries of the contemporary "Western" world -- where Leftists have only ever had partial success in implementing their programmes. So what happens when Leftists get fully into power? Does the same analysis apply?

For a start, it should be obvious that the personality and goals of the Leftist do not change just because he gets into power. He is still the same person. And that this is true is certainly very clear in the case of Lenin -- who is surely the example par excellence of a Leftist who very clearly did get into power. In his post-revolutionary philippic against his more idealistic revolutionary comrades, Lenin (1952) makes very clear that "absolute centralization and the strictest discipline of the proletariat" are still in his view essential features of the new regime. He speaks very much like the authoritarian dictator that he was but is nonetheless being perfectly consistent with the universal Leftist wish for strong government power and control over the population -- but only as long as Leftists are in charge. So Leftists in power certainly do NOT cause the State to "wither away" -- as Marx foresaw in "The Communist Manifesto".

Obviously, Leftists in power also cease to want change. Aside from their focus on industrialization, change in the Soviet Union was glacial and any institutional change or change in the locus or nature of political power was ferociously resisted. So if a clamour for change is characteristic of Leftists in the "West" but not characteristic when Leftists attain full power, what are the real, underlying motives of Leftism?


That question can be answered on a number of levels. The normal answer given by Leftists themselves, of course, is that existing societies are unjust -- where justice is defined as everybody getting more or less equal economic rewards and access to power regardless of anything that they might do or not do. This however just leads to the further questions of why the Leftist is concerned about justice and why does he define justice in such a simplistic way?

Generally speaking, the answer to that is a simple and obvious one: The Leftist voter is in a disadvantaged position relative to the society in which he lives and so would benefit from a more equal distribution of society's resources.

But not all Leftists are in that position. From Marx and Engels onwards, the more vocal and prominent Leftists have tended in fact to be from relatively privileged backgrounds. What motivates such "ideological" Leftists? Much of what follows will be taken up with some suggestions about that. It would be foolish to propose that only one thing could lead to a Leftist orientation so several theories are put forward with the view that any one or perhaps more than one could explain the orientation of any given individual.

Ego need

The theory that would seem to have the widest explanatory power is that Leftist advocacy serves ego needs. It is submitted here that the major psychological reason why Leftists so zealously criticize the existing order and advocate change is in order to feed a pressing need for self-inflation and ego-boosting -- and ultimately for power, the greatest ego boost of all. They need public attention; they need to demonstrate outrage; they need to feel wiser and kinder and more righteous than most of their fellow man. They fancy for themselves the heroic role of David versus Goliath. They need to show that they are in the small club of the virtuous and the wise so that they can nobly instruct and order about their less wise and less virtuous fellow-citizens. Their need is a pressing need for attention, for self-advertisement and self-promotion -- generally in the absence of any real claims in that direction. They are people who need to feel important and who are aggrieved at their lack of recognition and power. One is tempted to hypothesize that, when they were children, their mothers didn't look when they said, "Mummy, look at me".

This means that the "warm inner glow" that they obtain from their advocacy and agitation is greatly prized. So it is no wonder that inconvenient facts -- such as scientific findings about the overwhelming influence of human heredity or historical truths about the brutality of all of the many Communist regimes the world had in the 20th century -- are determinedly ignored. This view of Leftism as a club of the righteous that must never be disturbed or threatened is explored in detail by Warby (2002).


And, of course, people who themselves desperately want power, attention and praise envy with a passion those who already have that. Businessmen, "the establishment", rich people, upper class people, powerful politicians and anybody who helps perpetuate the existing order in any way are seen by the Leftist as obstacles to him having what he wants. They are all seen as automatically "unworthy" compared to his own great virtues and claims on what they already have. "Why should they have ........ ?" is the Leftist's implicit cry -- and those who share that angry cry have an understanding of one-another that no rational argument could achieve and that no outsider can ever share.

The Leftist's passion for equality is really therefore only apparently a desire to lift the disadvantaged up. In reality it is a hatred of all those in society who are already in a superior or more powerful position to the Leftist and a desire to cut them down to size.

Envy is a very common thing and most of us have probably at some time envied someone but, for someone with the Leftist's strong ego needs, envy becomes a hatred and a consuming force that easily accounts for the ferocious brutality of Communist movements and the economically destructive policies (such as punitively high taxation, price controls and over-regulation generally) employed by Leftists in resolutely democratic societies.

So the economic destruction and general impoverishment typically brought about by Leftists is not as irrational as it at first seems. The Leftist actually wants that. Making others poorer is usually an infinitely higher priority for him than doing anybody any good. One suspects that most individual Leftists realize that no revolution or social transformation is ever going to put them personally into a position of wealth or power so the destruction of the wealth and power and satisfaction of those who already have it must be the main thing they hope to get out of supporting Leftist politics. For a fuller account of the enormously destructive nature of envy see Schoeck (1969).

Whether or not someone is important, rich, successful, famous, poweful etc., is however of course very much a matter of individual perception. This "relativity" of importance, prestige etc. would seem to explain why many active Leftists are in fact college or university professors. College or university professor is a generally high status occupation that provides an above-average income so might, on the face of it, be seen as already providing considerable recognition and praise. But if status is precisely why certain people have gone to the considerable trouble generally required to enter that occupation, it could well be that the ego need of that person is so big that even more recognition is then craved. A college professorship may be prestigious but still be seen as providing far too little power, public exposure and opportunity for self-display. "Seeing I am so smart, I should be running the whole show", is an obvious line of thought for such people. Just some power and fame is still not enough power and fame for them.

Such great egotism and hunger for power and attention does of course make a mockery of the Leftist's claim to be in favour of equality. Like the pigs in George Orwell's "Animal farm", the Leftist wants to be "more equal than others". He wants to rule or at least dominate. Beneath his deceptive rhetoric, he is the ultimate elitist. He actually despises most of his fellow men and thinks that only he and his clique are fit to run everything. The last thing he wants is to be lost in a sea of equal people.

And nothing above, of course, is meant to suggest that pressing ego needs, self-righteousness etc are confined to Leftists. It is merely meant to say that Leftism is the principal political expression of such needs. Such needs can also be met by religion etc. and it must be noted that Communism was often described as a religion by its critics. Why people choose politics rather than some other means of meeting their ego needs would have to be the subject of a whole new enquiry but it seems possible that the potentially very broad exposure that politics provides to an individual might attract the people with the very highest ego needs. This high level of ego need among Leftists would also explain the generally much greater political activism of the political Left compared to the generally rather somnolent political Right.

It would also explain why Leftists so often have a "spare me the details" or "Don't worry about the facts" orientation. For most Leftists, it is the activism itself rather than what is advocated that is the main point of the exercise. As long as the cause advocated is both generally praiseworthy and disruptive to implement, that will suffice. If the Leftist cannot have power, praise and attention are the next best thing from a Leftist's point of view.

The need for self-display does however in MOST people tend to decline as they mature -- which is part of the reason why graduates tend to be less radical than students and why older people tend to be much more conservative than young people (Ray, 1985). To misquote Lenin (1952) only slightly, much of Leftism would appear to be "an infantile disorder".


Another psychological motivation for Leftism that is sometimes mentioned (e.g. Levite, 1998) is one that seems on the face of it rather dubious: Guilt. The claim is that affluent people feel bad (guilty) when they see how poorly others are doing and want to rectify that by getting handouts for the disadvantaged (but not from their own pockets of course). This could be mere Leftist persiflage: Leftists may sometimes explain their motives in such a high-minded way but if they really felt guilty it would seem that there is plenty they could do to help others rather than agitating for higher taxes.

The undoubted fact that Left activists (from the Bolsheviks on) tend to come from affluent families does not necessarily point to guilt as their motive. It could show that those who have all that they want materially then seek other luxuries: such as excitement, self-righteousness, praise and power -- particularly excitement in the case of "rich kid" Leftists. And if you can have praise and self-righteousness along with your excitement what a good deal it is! It is much the same motivation that causes self-made rich men (such as Microsoft's Bill Gates) to become highly philanthropic. Bill Gates has power and wealth so he now seeks praise and righteousness.

Other Causes of Leftism

There are, however, many other possible reasons for Leftism. Some that appear related to the prime motivation (ego need) given initially above would appear to be:

Some Leftists just think themselves clever for being able to criticize.

Some Leftists are simply cynical opportunists who see opportunity for themselves in change.

Some Leftists are simply hiding their real hatred of their fellow man in a cloak of good intentions. They want to hurt their fellow man but need to change the system (a "revolution") to get the opportunity of doing so.

The more "revolutionary" and Trotskyite Left often use the word "smash" in their slogans (e.g. smash racism, smash capitalism, smash various political leaders) so it seems probable that some Leftists simply lust to smash things. They seek a socially acceptable excuse for their barely suppressed destructive urges. They presumably are the ones who are responsible for the violence and destruction that often accompanies Leftist street and campus demonstrations. Violent change is what they are interested in. Presumably, in another time and place, many of them would have joined Hitler's Brownshirts.


But not all motivations for Leftism are as discreditable as the ones given above. Among the more sincere motivations for Leftism would be:

Some are genuinely outraged by things that they do not understand and are unwise enough to want to change those things willy nilly. In particular, they may be genuinely grieved by the unhappy experiences of others and want to fix that ASAP without being wise enough to seek for means of fixing it that have some prospect of working or that are not self-defeating. They might, for instance, be disturbed by the impact of rising rents on the poor and propose rent-control as a quick-fix solution -- though a few minutes of thought or the most elementary inquiry should tell them that rent control will after a time also have the effect of degrading and shrinking the existing stock of rental accomodation and drying up the supply of new rental accomodation, both of which make the poor much worse off in the long run.

The Leftist may still be young and unaware of most of life's complexities so that the drastically simple "solutions" and mantras proffered by the Left simply seem reasonable. Leftism has the appeal of simplicity.

Some, again particularly the young, are idealists who find the imperfect state of the real world unsatisfying. That there is some genuine idealism even among extreme Leftists is shown by the exoduses from Communist Parties in the economically successful "Western" democracies that followed the violent Soviet suppression of the East German, Hungarian and Czechoslovak uprisings against Communist rule in 1953, 1956 and 1968. Once the real nature of Communist regimes became too clear to be denied, honest decent people whose wishful thinking had led them to believe Communist protestations of benevolence and good intentions saw the light and abandoned Communism. In the USA (in New York particularly), some liberal intellectuals even saw enough in the Soviet actions of those times to cause them to abandon "liberalism" and found neo-conservatism. Similarly in Australia of the 1950s and '60s, the Andersonian libertarians of Sydney were also intellectuals who might otherwise have been Leftists but who were united by realism about Soviet brutality.

Some Leftists know that they themselves are weird by general social standards so preach change towards greater tolerance for all weirdness out of sheer self-interest. As George Orwell apparently once said long ago: "There is the horrible -- the really disquieting -- prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words 'socialism' and 'communism' draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex maniac, Quaker, 'nature-cure' quack, pacifist and feminist in England."

Leftism works as a religion for atheists. There would appear to be a strong inborn need for religion in human beings. Even in the present skeptical, scientific and materialistic age about half of all Americans are churchgoers and years of indoctrination into atheism by the Communists seem to have left the Church stronger than ever in Russia and Poland. And even among those with no formal religious affiliations, very few are outright atheists. So Leftism could be seen as a Godless religion -- something that meets the religious needs of those who for various reasons are dissatisfied either with other religions or with supernatural ideas in general. Not all religions have a dominant God or father-figure at their centre (e.g. Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto) and a religion that dispenses with the supernatural altogether does not therefore seem impossibly paradoxical. The identification of Leftism as a religion is very commonly made and the ability to believe in things that sound good but have very little supportive evidence would certainly seem to constitute a common core between Leftism and other religions. Both Leftists and the religious could, in other words, be seen as the wishful thinkers of the world: A very large throng. And, as a religion originally emanating from the economically successful "Western" democracies, Leftism is typical in being very proselytizing and intolerant of competing religions.

Another reason for Leftism that seems worth considering comes from biological theory. If there can be sociological and psychological explanations for Leftism, why not biological ones too? Martin & Jardine (1986) and Eaves, Heath, Martin, Meyer & Corey (1999) have reported strong genetic heritability for political orientation so the possibility of a biological explanation must be taken seriously. A possible biological or evolutionary explanation would be that Leftism is a remnant of the primitive hunter-gatherer in us. A liking for change might have been highly adaptive among hunter-gatherers because it caused them to wander around the landscape more and thus exposed them to a greater diversity of food-sources. Some support for this is the strong tradition, still occasionally observable today, for Australian Aborigines to want to "go walkabout" (leave their current environment) from time to time. Australian Aborigines were, of course, a purely hunter-gatherer people before the coming of the white man.

Against this view, however, one must put the fact that hunter gatherer societies in general seem to be characterized more by changelessness than anything else. In hunter-gatherer tribes the same things are done in the same way for generation after generation. It could be however that a changeless environment usually prevents significant change in practices regardless of any desire for change. The corollary of this explanation, of course, is that a conservative orientation has been selected for by the requirements of civilization: People who are psychologically settled are needed to make civilization work.

A final possibility among the more creditable motivations for Leftism locates the appeal of Leftism solely in its usual stress on equality. The French Leftist Todd (1985) has put forward anthropological evidence to suggest that Leftism has strong appeal only in countries where child-rearing practices stress equality of treatment between siblings. Thus Russia showed easy acceptance of Communism because Russian parents normally go to great length to treat all their children equally -- particularly by dividing up inheritances (property) equally. Whereas Britain has only ever had a tiny Communist party because of the traditional English practice of primogeniture -- where the eldest son gets almost all of the inherited property. English child-rearing practices have never had a devotion to treating siblings equally so the English do not usually expect or hope for equality of property distribution in later life. So your attraction to the dream of equality may reflect a childhood where parents imposed a rule of equality. Because of your childhood experiences, equality seems emotionally "right", regardless of its practicality.

Note however, that the work by Martin & Jardine (1986) and Eaves, Heath, Martin, Meyer & Corey (1999) showing that Leftism is to a very considerable extent genetically transmitted rather than learnt militates against this as a general explanation for Leftism. Explanations of Leftism in terms of personality variables -- such as strong ego-need -- do not encounter this objection as the strong genetic transmission of personality characteristics has often been demonstrated (e.g. Lake, Eaves, Maes, Heath & Martin, 2000).


The initial focus in this paper has been on defining and explaining what Leftism is. But, large a project though it is, it is also of course necessary to give at least a skeletal outline of what Rightism is. If Leftism and Rightism are NOT mirror-images, as this paper asserts, some such account is necessary in order to complete the picture. I have, however, written one book and many previous papers for those who wish to study conservatism at greater length than is offered here (See Ray, 1972b, 1973, 1974, 1979 & 1981). Briefly, however, it will be proposed here that the main focus of conservatism has now for many centuries been a stress on individual liberties and a concomitant dislike of big governmernt and of centralized power generally.

Military Dictators?

In the late 20th century, it was a common rhetorical ploy of the more "revolutionary" Left in the "Western" world simply to ignore democracy as an alternative to Communism. Instead they would excuse the brutalities of Communism by pointing to the brutalities of the then numerous military dictatorships of Southern Europe and Latin America and pretend that such regimes were the only alternative to Communism. These regimes were led by generals who might in various ways be seen as conservative (though Argentina's Peron was clearly Leftist) so do they tell us anything about conservatism generally?

Historically, most of the world has been ruled by military men and their successors (Sargon II of Assyria, Alexander of Macedon, Caesar, Augustus, Constantine, Charlemagne, Frederick II of Prussia etc.) so it seems unlikely but perhaps the main point to note here is that the Hispanic dictatorships of the 20th century were very often created as a response to a perceived threat of a Communist takeover. This is particularly clear in the case of Spain, Chile and Argentina. They were an attempt to fight fire with fire. In Argentina of the 60s and 70s, for instance, Leftist "urban guerillas" were very active -- blowing up anyone they disapproved of. The nice, mild, moderate Anglo-Saxon response to such depredations would have been to endure the deaths and disruptions concerned and use police methods to trace the perpetrators and bring them to trial.

Much of the world is more fiery than that, however, and the Argentine generals certainly were. They became impatient with the slow-grinding wheels of democracy and its apparent impotence in the face of the Leftist revolutionaries. They therefore seized power and instituted a reign of terror against the Leftist revolutionaries that was as bloody, arbitrary and indiscriminate as what the Leftists had inflicted. In a word, they used military methods to deal with the Leftist attackers. So the nature of these regimes was only incidentally conservative. What they were was essentially military. We have to range further than the Hispanic generals, therefore, if we are to find out what is quintessentially conservative.

It might be noted, however, that, centuries earlier, the parliamentary leaders of England -- led by Fairfax, Cromwell etc. -- did something similar to what the Hispanic generals of the 20th century did. Faced by an attempt on the part of the Stuart tyrant to abrogate their traditional rights, powers and liberties, they resorted to military means to overthrow the threat. There is no reason to argue that democracy cannot or must not use military means to defend itself or that Leftists or anyone else must be granted exclusive rights to the use of force and violence.

German Origins

I would like to submit, then, that what modern-day Rightists of the English-speaking world are traces right back to the values of the German invaders (Angles and Saxons) who overran Romano-Celtic Britannia around 1500 years ago and made it into England. They brought with them a very decentralized, largely tribal system of government that was very different from the Oriental despotisms that had ruled the civilized world for most of human history up to that time. And they liked their decentralized system very much. So much so that the system just kept on keeping on in England, century after century, despite many vicissitudes. Only the 20th century really shook it.

My thesis here is, of course, not exactly original. Montesquieu, De Tocqueville and Jefferson all saw English exceptionalism and independence of spirit as tracing back to German roots and all relied particularly on Tacitus for their view of the early German character. The work of Macfarlane (1978 & 2000) is however probably the best modern reference on the topic.

But let us look at what Tacitus said in his "Germania". Excerpts:

Quote:They choose their kings by birth, their generals for merit. These kings have not unlimited or arbitrary power, and the generals do more by example than by authority.

About minor matters the chiefs deliberate, about the more important the whole tribe. Yet even when the final decision rests with the people, the affair is always thoroughly discussed by the chiefs. They assemble, except in the case of a sudden emergency, on certain fixed days, either at new or at full moon; for this they consider the most auspicious season for the transaction of business. Instead of reckoning by days as we do, they reckon by nights, and in this manner fix both their ordinary and their legal appointments. Night they regard as bringing on day. Their freedom has this disadvantage, that they do not meet simultaneously or as they are bidden, but two or three days are wasted in the delays of assembling. When the multitude think proper, they sit down armed. Silence is proclaimed by the priests, who have on these occasions the right of keeping order. Then the king or the chief, according to age, birth, distinction in war, or eloquence, is heard, more because he has influence to persuade than because he has power to command. If his sentiments displease them, they reject them with murmurs; if they are satisfied, they brandish their spears.

In truth neither from the Samnites, nor from the Carthaginians, nor from both Spains, nor from all the nations of Gaul, have we received more frequent checks and alarms; nor even from the Parthians: for, more vigorous and invincible is the liberty of the Germans than the monarchy of the Arsacides.

Our modern-day parliamentary procedures are a little more sophisticated but the basic values and principles seem to me not to have changed at all.

It could also be said that the decentralized nature of the early German communities was no different from the decentralization in Greece before the Athenian Empire, the decentralization in Italy before the ascendancy of the Roman Republic or indeed the decentralization of the original Mesopotamian civilization. The important point, here, however is the much longer survival of that form of organization among Germans -- and it is certainly to Germans that the English must trace it.

Where the English get their traditional dislike of unrestrained central power is not the main point or even an essential point of the present account. Nonetheless, tracing that dislike to the ultimately German descent of most of the English population might seem colossally perverse in view of Germany's recent experience. Was not Hitler a German and was he not almost the ultimate despot and centralizer of power in his own hands? One could quibble here by saying that Hitler was NOT a German (he was an Austrian) and the Israeli historian Unger (1965) has pointed out that Hitler was much less of a despot than Stalin was but neither of those points is really saying much in the present context.

The important thing here again is to see things with an historian's eye and realize that recent times are atypical. Right up until Bismarck's ascendancy in the late 19th century, Germany was remarkable for its degree of decentralization. What we now know as Germany was once always comprised of hundreds of independent States (kingdoms, principalities, Hanseatic cities etc.) of all shapes and sizes: States that were in fact so much in competition with one another in various ways that they were not infrequently at war with one-another. And even with the armed might of Prussia behind him even Bismarck had a lot of trouble with the other German States. He could not even get his Prussian monarch declared as being "Emperor of Germany". He had to make do with "German Emperor" as a title.

And it was of course only the fractionated and competing centres of power existing in mediaeval Germany that enabled the successful emergence there of the most transforming and anti-authority event of the last 1000 years: The Protestant Reformation. Despite the almost immediate and certainly widespread popularity of his new teachings among Germans, Luther ran great risks and would almost certainly have been burnt at the stake like Savonarola, Hus and his other predecessors in religious rebellion had it not been for his (and our) good fortune that he was a Saxon. His Prince, Frederick III ("The Wise") of Saxony gave him constant protection. As one of the Electors of the Holy Roman Empire, Frederick was strong enough and independent enough to protect Luther from Pope, from Emperor and from other German potentates.

So only after Bismarck engineered the defeat of the French at Sedan in 1870 did most of Germany become unified -- with the Germans of the Austrian lands remaining independent even then. And to this day Germany has a Federal system very similar to that of their largely Germanic brethren in the United States, Canada and Australia -- a system of State governments which markedly limits central (Federal) government power. So the German origins of the English do make their historic dislike of concentrated power at the Centre just one part of a larger picture.

In 1066, William of Normandy disrupted the traditional decentralized and competitive power structure of England to some degree but by the time of King John and Magna Carta it was back with a vengeance. And the ascendancy of Simon de Montfort not long after that also displayed the traditional English belief in the limited nature of central government power. Even in the reign of that great Tudor despot, Henry VIII, there were still in England great and powerful regional Lords and many less powerful but numerous local notables representing local interests that the King had to take great care with. Even Tudor central government power was highly contingent, far from absolute and much dependant on the popularity of the ruler among ordinary English people. And when the Stuarts, with their doctrine of "the divine right of Kings", ignored all that and tried to turn the English monarchy into something more like a centralized Oriental despotism, off came the head of the Stuart King.

Protestantism versus Catholicism

Luther has been mentioned as a beneficiary of Germanic power decentralization but Luther's message received wide acclaim in Germany generally so it seems reasonable to say that German distrust of centralized power not only protected Protestantism but was was in fact a major cause of Protestantism. Because what is Protestantism after all if it is not a rejection of centralized religious authority? So in that sense, conservatism and Protestantism are the twin children of Germanic suspicion of centralized power. Looking at it another way, we could say that Protestantism is a religious expression of political conservatism

Further, where the Roman Catholic believes that the sacraments administered by a religious authority (a priest) are essential for his ascent into heaven, the Protestant believes that he can commune with the Almighty directly. Catholicism fosters habits of submission to authority whereas Protestantism inculcates hardy independence. So acceptance of government authority over oneself should come as naturally to the Catholic as it is alien to the Protestant.

So German history could at a pinch be seen as a struggle between native decentralizing tendencies and Catholic centralizing tendencies --- with the German lands closest to Rome remaining Catholic and Imperial while the (Northern) German lands farthest from Rome remained independent, Protestant and decentralized. And the struggle the North had to resist the Imperial South was indeed a titanic one --including the famous 30 years' war from 1618 to 1648.

As some evidence that there is still something left of that difference, it might be noted that, in interwar Germany of the early 20th century, the Protestant North was largely "Red" (revolutionary) whereas the Catholic South was largely Nazi -- i.e. more prepared to operate within the existing power structures and more prepared to accept the Church. Hitler did after all have a Catholic education.

So how do we account for the fact that "Christian Democratic" (i.e. Catholic) political parties seem generally to be the major conservative forces within modern European politics? And how indeed do we account for the fact that at least 50% of Germans are to this day Catholic?

A essential part of the answer is of course the counter-reformation -- a process that began in response to Luther and which restored the acceptabity of Catholicism to many Germans. This reform process within the Catholic church may have begun in response to Luther but has in fact been an ongoing process within the Catholic Church ever since --- with the relatively recent Vatican II ecumenical council being a particular highpoint of the process. So the Catholic church could only combat the power of Luther's message by partially bending to it and thus becoming itself to a large degree Protestantized and weakened in authority. And the way a huge proportion of otherwise convinced Catholics now disregard the teachings of their church on such matters as contraception shows vividly that the authority of the Church is now in fact mostly an empty shell.

So in various guises Germanic Protestantism has won the day over Roman authority in the religious sphere just as Germanic conservatism has won the day over socialism in the political sphere. We now have Protestantized Catholics and "Thatcherized" socialists in much of the world.

Nonetheless, even in a weakened form, the Catholic church offers a model of "top down" social organization that must make it easier for Catholics to accept political arrangements of a "top down" sort. If you look up to the Pope as an essential part of your salvation in the spiritual sphere, to look up to the government as an essential agency in securing your material wellbeing is surely only a small step. So the fact that the vast majority of Europeans are still Catholic (even if the Catholicism is much watered down from what it was) should make Europeans more accepting of all-pervasive government than Anglo-Saxons would ever be. And so, of course, it has come to pass. In Bismarck, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Salazar and Papadopoulos Europe has had authoritarianism in government on a scale unknown in the English-speaking world.

So how conservatism has evolved in the modern-day English-speaking world is rather different from how conservatism has evolved in Europe. Anglo-Saxon conservatism benefited greatly from Henry VIII, who made England almost totally Protestant. Protestants in Germany failed to achieve this dominance and so England has been better able to stay close to its Germanic and Protestant roots -- whereas European conservatism has never totally escaped Catholicism. European conservatism has therefore mostly lost its anti-centralization principles and conforms much more closely to the stereotyped image of conservatism as being merely a defence of traditional arrangements generally. This of course makes it a much weaker form of conservatism and the huge bureaucratization that now characterizes the European Union is vivid evidence of that. European conservatives have been much less effective as opponents of big government because opposition to big government is much less of a central position for them.

A Conservative Revolution

The English parliamentarians who were responsible for beheading King Charles I in 1649 were perfectly articulate about why. They felt that Charles had attempted to destroy the ancient English governmental system or "constitution" and that he had tried to take away important rights and individual liberties that the English had always enjoyed -- liberty from the arbitrary power of Kings, a right to representation in important decisions and a system of counterbalanced and competing powers rather than an all-powerful central government. It is to them that we can look for the first systematic statements of conservative ideals -- ideals that persevere to this day. And they were both conservatives (wishing to conserve traditional rights and arrangements) and revolutionaries!

So right back in the 17th century we had the apparent paradox of "conservatives" (the parliamentary leaders -- later to be referred to as "Whigs") being prepared to undertake most radical change (deposing monarchy) in order to restore treasured traditional rights and liberties and to rein in overweening governmental power. So Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were not at all breakaways from the conservatism of the past. They had very early and even more determined predecessors. Nobody who knew history should have been surprised by the Reagan/Thatcher "revolution". And it was in deliberate tribute to the parliamentarians of Cromwell's day and their immediate successors that two of the most influential conservative theorists prior to Reagan and Thatcher both described themselves as "Old Whigs" -- Burke (1790) and Hayek (1944). Hayek described Whig ideals as "the only set of ideals that has consistently opposed all arbitrary power" (Hayek, 1960).

And it is not only conservative theorists who still see overweening government power as their bete noir. Even practical conservative politicians do. Note this very clear statement of the conservative mission from one of America's most notable conservative politicians in the second half of the 20th century:

Quote:"Those who seek absolute power, even though they seek it to do what they regard as good, are simply demanding the right to enforce their own version of heaven on earth. And let me remind you, they are the very ones who always create the most hellish tyrannies. Absolute power does corrupt, and those who seek it must be suspect and must be opposed. Their mistaken course stems from false notions of equality, ladies and gentlemen. Equality, rightly understood, as our founding fathers understood it, leads to liberty and to the emancipation of creative differences. Wrongly understood, as it has been so tragically in our time, it leads first to conformity and then to despotism.

Fellow Republicans, it is the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power, private or public, which enforce such conformity and inflict such despotism. It is the cause of Republicanism to ensure that power remains in the hands of the people. And, so help us God, that is exactly what a Republican president will do with the help of a Republican Congress.

It is further the cause of Republicanism to restore a clear understanding of the tyranny of man over man in the world at large. It is our cause to dispel the foggy thinking which avoids hard decisions in the illusion that a world of conflict will somehow mysteriously resolve itself into a world of harmony, if we just don't rock the boat or irritate the forces of aggression - and this is hogwash.

And who said that? It is from the acceptance speech by Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican convention which nominated him as its candidate for President.
So, for over three centuries, the central values of conservatism -- at least in the English-speaking world -- have remained the same

Other conservative voices in history

Showing a continuity that moves all the way from Cromwell to Goldwater is surely impressive but it does leave out a great deal of history in between. So let us also look briefly at some of the intervening history:

To quote from one history (Roberts, 1958) of the earliest English Tories (Conservative Party):

Quote:"The principles of Tory paternalism do not lend themselves to effective legislation or improved administration. Coleridge, the most profound and influential of these theorists, looked to the moral regeneration of the individual, not to the reforming State, and he envisaged the Church of England as the head of a paternalistic society. He despised what he called "act of Parliament reforms", and he exalted the Church as much as he feared the State."

Of a slightly later period we read:

Quote:"Only State aid to all voluntary schools could extend education, but the Tories would not tolerate State intervention in a sphere reserved for the Church. In a grandiloquent speech to the Commons, Disraeli played deftly on this deep jealousy of the State. He raised the spectre of a centralized despotism comparable to those which oppressed China, Persia and Austria, and sombrely warned that the grant would force a return "to the system of a barbarous age, the system of a paternal government"."

[size=13]So dislike of State intervention has long been a prominent theme (though not of
course the only theme) among conservatives. Nor do we have to go so far back in history to come up with instances of this sort. Two notable quotations that might be referred to for further reading are by the eminent British Conservative Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and by the noted Conservative philosopher Michael Oakeshott (See Buck, 1975 p.139-141 and p. 154 as a convenient reference for the detailed texts of both statements). Although both statements were made long before the Reagan/Thatcher/Gorbachev era, both stress how important to Conservatism is the limiting of State power and activity -- though neither of course limits the concerns of Conservatives to that one theme.

Is individualism basic to conservatism?

It has then been shown that there is large historical precedent for the current conservative preoccupation with individual liberty and it is argued here that a love of individual liberty is a basic value for conservatives. It is reasonable to ask, however, whether this is really FUNDAMENTAL to conservatism. Could there not be a deeper level of motivation that underlies a love of individual liberty?

We find one such proposal in the conclusions drawn by some historians of the British Conservative party -- who find a certain realistic, practical and pragmatic outlook as the main enduring characteristics of Conservative thought (Feiling, 1953; Gilmour, 1978; Norton & Aughey, 1981; Standish, 1990) and this is clearly a theory about the wellsprings of conservatism rather than a description of what conservatives have tended to stand for. And it is not at all difficult to see why such skepticism has led to doubt about the benefits of extending the inevitably ham-fisted activities of government ever further into the life of the community. So we might say that this proposal is that a certain STYLE of thinking leads to a predictable CONTENT in thinking.

While this is a reasonable proposal, it does have a large philosophical problem: How do we define what is realistic, practical and pragmatic? So while I think that this proposal may well be true, garnering evidence for its truth is too big a task at least for me.

A more important alternative theory for the origins of conservatism is one that is very often quoted and finds its principal exponents in Burke (1790), Hayek (1944) and Oakeshott (1975) -- though the two former thinkers in fact described themselves as "Whigs" rather than as conservatives. This theory also traces policy to a style of thought. The theory basically is that there is an underlying wariness and skepticism in conservatives that makes them question ANY political policies whatever -- including policies that call for change. Conservatives need good evidence that something will work well and have the intended consequences before they will support it. And for this reason conservatives prefer "the devil they know" and want any change to be of a gradual and evolutionary kind -- progressing by small steps that can easily be reversed if the intended outcomes are not realized.

And it is this preference for "the devil they know" that has led to conservatives being caricaturized as wanting NO change when in fact all that they insist on is CAREFUL change. From Cromwell on, conservatives have never been characterized by a rejection of change for its own sake. When a regime is clearly oppressive or an experiment has clearly failed (such as State ownership of industry) conservatives find no difficulty in abandoning it and changing to something else.

But this account of conservatism is insufficient by itself. It fails to ask what the CRITERION is in evaluating change. How do we evaluate whether a policy is beneficial or not? How do we define "beneficial"? And it is in answering that question that we come back to individual liberty as being a basic value. Conservatism is a broad church and conservatives will of course use many criteria in evaluating the desirability or efficacy of particular political policies but, in making such evaluations, it is the high value that one gives to leaving the individual free to make his/her own decisions and obtain his/her own preferences that makes one a conservative. Rejection of change may be an INSTRUMENT in protecting the individual but it is no more than that.

The "Germanic" USA

My thesis tracing both conservatism and Protestantism to an originally Germanic spirit of independence and dislike of centralized power or authority is of course well exemplified in the early history of the USA. At the time of independence, the USA was not only "Germanic" (in the sense of having a large Anglo-Saxon population) but it was also literally German in that German ancestry was nearly as common among Americans at that time as was British ancestry. And what was the American revolution if not a rebellion against the centralized and remote authority of King George III? And what did the architects of the new American constitution set up if it was not a decentralized system -- with the Federal government at that time being little more than an appendage to the various State governments? And what was the American revolution fought in the name of if not in the name of individual rights and liberties?

The role of Christianity generally

Many influential conservative writers of the past (e.g. Burke, 1790) have held that Christianity is an essential foundation for conservatism -- though others (e.g. Hayek, 1944) disagree. A large part of the reason for that is the traditional role of the churches as arbiters and enforcers of morality in gen


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