Monday, July 27, 2020

Clarifying the Structure and Nature of Left-wing Authoritarianism

Costello, Thomas H., Shauna Bowes, Sean T. Stevens, Irwin Waldman, and Scott O. Lilienfeld. 2020. “Clarifying the Structure and Nature of Left-wing Authoritarianism.” PsyArXiv. May 11. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: Left-wing authoritarianism (LWA) is one of the more controversial and poorly understood major constructs in political psychology. In this series of studies, we investigate LWA’s nature, structure, correlates, and psychological implications. Beginning with a broad preliminary conceptualization of LWA, we use exploratory and empirical strategies of test construction across five community samples (N = 6,292) to iteratively construct a measure of LWA with promising content validity; refine our conceptualization based on the measure’s structural and nomological validity; and update the measure to reflect these changes. We conduct quantitative tests of LWA’s relations with a host of authoritarianism-related variables, based on a priori hypotheses derived in part from right-wing authoritarianism’s well-established nomological network, and use a behavioral paradigm to show that LWA and social dominance orientation (but not right-wing authoritarianism) predict aggression towards threatening ideological opponents over and above political ideology. We conclude that a shared psychological “core” underlies authoritarianism across the political left and right.

Check also Right-wing Authoritarianism, Left-wing Authoritarianism, and pandemic-mitigation authoritarianism. Joseph H. Manson. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 167, 1 December 2020, 110251.

Right-wing Authoritarianism, Left-wing Authoritarianism, and pandemic-mitigation authoritarianism

Right-wing Authoritarianism, Left-wing Authoritarianism, and pandemic-mitigation authoritarianism. Joseph H. Manson. Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 167, 1 December 2020, 110251.

• Recent work supports the validity of the construct of Left-wing Authoritarianism.
• LWA shares some features with Right-wing Authoritarianism (RWA).
• The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted implementation of authoritarian policies.
• Both RWA and LWA predicted support for authoritarian pandemic-mitigation policies.

Abstract: Recent research suggests the validity of the construct of Left-wing Authoritarianism (LWA). Like its well-studied parallel construct Right-wing Authoritarianism, LWA is characterized by dogmatism, punitive attitudes toward dissenters, and desire for strong authority figures. In contrast to RWA, LWA mobilizes these traits on behalf of left-wing values (e.g. anti-racism, anti-sexism, and wealth redistribution). I inductively examined the extent to which RWA and LWA predicted, in April 2020, Americans' endorsement of 19 authoritarian policies and practices intended to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For 11 of these policies (e.g. abrogating the right to trial by jury for pandemic-related crimes), both RWA and LWA independently positively predicted endorsement. These findings are consistent with recent work showing psychological similarities between the two constructs.

Keywords: Right-wing AuthoritarianismLeft-wing AuthoritarianismCOVID-19

5. Discussion
Reacting to the severe public health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in Spring 2020, many citizens of liberal democratic nations have tolerated, or even demanded, actions from their governments that they would view as unacceptably heavy-handed under normal conditions. The current study used this situation to extend the nomological networks of the well-established construct of Right-wing Authoritarianism (Altemeyer, 1981Duckitt et al., 2010), and the promising, but so far little-explored, construct of Left-wing Authoritarianism (Conway III et al., 2017Costello, Bowes, et al., 2020). Both traits predicted endorsement of a range of putatively pandemic-mitigating policies and practices that many would regard as authoritarian. A few of these results were unremarkable, or even slightly circular, e.g. one of the ACT items condemns abortion, and one of the policies endorsed more by people higher in RWA was closing abortion clinics. However, most of the results illuminated, some of them rather surprisingly, how people with authoritarian attitudes respond when, due to a crisis, a menu of normally taboo authoritarian policies appears on the table of mainstream public debate in a liberal democracy. For example, RWA is positively related to conservatism (Crowson, Thoma, & Hestevold, 2005), and one component of American conservatism is advocacy of free markets, and yet RWA was positively associated with endorsement of the government running the economy.
Although I did not measure perception of the danger posed by COVID-19, it is unlikely that variation in objective risk of death or serious illness drove the observed associations between RWA or LWA and increased endorsement of putatively authoritarian policies. None of the three covariates chosen because of their association with COVID-19 mortality risk (county COVID-19 rate, age, or African-American identity) was consistently positively related to endorsement of these policies.
This study builds on recent work (Costello, Bowes, et al., 2020) that has demonstrated the existence of authoritarian attitudes on both ends of the political spectrum, and has documented numerous psychological similarities between RWA and LWA. Two such similarities are belief in a dangerous world, and preference for state control. Consistent with these findings, I found that in response to the danger posed by a deadly pandemic, people high in RWA and people high in LWA agreed on the need for enhanced state control in several domains, including restrictions on the right to protest, punishment without the right to trial by jury, and surveillance via a mandatory tracking app. The policies on which people high in RWA and people high in LWA disagreed tended to be those most directly tied to American right-wing vs. left-wing values, e.g. religion, abortion, and immigration.

5.1. Limitations

This study had three major limitations. First, no other political attitudes, besides RWA and LWA, were measured. Controlling for other attitudes would have changed the observed statistical associations between authoritarianism and policy endorsements. As just one example, RWA is distinct from, but positively correlated with, Social Dominance Orientation (SDO: Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994Roccato & Ricolfi, 2005), defined as degree of preference for inequality among social groups. Controlling for SDO might have reduced the association between RWA and endorsement of ban foreigners from entering. Second, as a cross-sectional study, this work cannot address the possibility of reversed causality, i.e. that the COVID-19 pandemic, as a perceived threat, has increased levels of authoritarianism (see Duckitt, 2001). Finally, my study population consisted exclusively of U.S. residents, so its findings do not generalize to other countries. Exploring this general topic internationally would require compiling country-specific lists of putatively authoritarian pandemic-mitigation policies. Furthermore, the validity of the LWA construct outside the U.S. has not been demonstrated.

5.2. Conclusions

LWA holds considerable promise as an explanatory construct in political psychology (Conway III et al., 2017Costello, Bowes, et al., 2020). Both the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the general U.S. political scene, have changed considerably since the data for this study were collected. Therefore, replicating it exactly might be impossible. In general, however, the relationship of LWA to policy preferences comprises a fruitful topic for future research.

Appendix (Conway, L. G., Houck, S. C., Gornick, L. J. and Repke, M. A. (2017), Finding the Loch Ness Monster: Left-Wing Authoritarianism in the United States. Political Psychology.

Left‐Wing Authoritarianism (LWA) Scale

For the following questions, please answer on a 1–7 scale, where 1 = “I disagree completely,” 4 = “neutral/undecided,” and 7 = “I completely agree.”
  • _______1. Our country desperately needs a mighty and liberal leader who will do what has to be done to destroy the radical traditional ways of doing things that are ruining us.
  • _______2. Christian fundamentalists are just as healthy and moral as anybody else.
  • _______3. It's always better to trust the judgment of the proper authorities in science with respect to issues like global warming and evolution than to listen to the noisy rabble‐rousers in our society who are trying to create doubts in people's minds.
  • _______4. Christian Fundamentalists and others who have rebelled against the established sciences are no doubt every bit as good and virtuous as those who agree with the best scientific minds.
  • _______5. The only way our country can get through the crisis ahead is to get rid of our “traditional” values, put some tough leaders in power who oppose those values, and silence the troublemakers spreading bad (and so‐called “traditional”) ideas.
  • _______6. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Christian Fundamentalist camps designed to create a new generation of Fundamentalists.
  • _______7. Our country needs traditional thinkers who will have the courage to defy modern progressive movements, even if this upsets many people.
  • _______8. Our country will be destroyed someday if we do not smash the traditional beliefs eating away at our national fiber and growing progressive beliefs.
  • _______9. With respect to environmental issues, everyone should have their own personality, even if it makes them different from everyone else.
  • _______10. Progressive ways and liberal values show the best way of life.
  • _______11. You have to admire those who challenged the law and the majority's view by
  • protesting against abortion rights or in favor of reinstating school prayer.
  • _______12. What our country really needs is a strong, determined leader who will crush the evil of pushy Christian religious people, and take us forward to our true path.
  • _______13. Some of the best people in our country are those who are challenging our government, supporting religion, and ignoring the “normal way” things are supposed to be done.
  • _______14. We should strongly punish those who try to uphold what they claim are “God's laws” about abortion, pornography, and marriage, when they break the actual laws of the country in order to do so.
  • _______15. There are many radical, immoral Christian people in our country today, who are trying to ruin it for their religious purposes, whom the authorities should put out of action.
  • _______16. A Christian's place should be wherever he or she wants to be. The days when
  • Christians are submissive to the conventions of this country belong strictly in the past.
  • _______17. Our country will be great if we honor the ways of progressive thinking, do what the best liberal authorities tell us to do, and get rid of the religious and conservative “rotten apples” who are ruining everything.
  • _______18. With respect to environmental issues, there is no “ONE right way” to live life; everybody has to create their own way.
  • _______19. Christian Fundamentalists should be praised for being brave enough to defy the
  • current societal and legal norms.
  • _______20. This country would work a lot better if certain groups of Christian troublemakers would just shut up and accept their group's proper place in society.

Every time I would call someone racist or sexist, I would get a rush ... reaffirmed and sustained by the stars, hearts, and thumbs-up that constitute the nickels and dimes of social media validation

I Was the Mob Until the Mob Came for Me. Barrett Wilson (pen name). Quillette, July 14, 2018.


In my previous life, I was a self-righteous social justice crusader. I would use my mid-sized Twitter and Facebook platforms to signal my wokeness on topics such as LGBT rights, rape culture, and racial injustice. Many of the opinions I held then are still opinions that I hold today. But I now realize that my social-media hyperactivity was, in reality, doing more harm than good.

Within the world created by the various apps I used, I got plenty of shares and retweets. But this masked how ineffective I had become outside, in the real world. The only causes I was actually contributing to were the causes of mobbing and public shaming. Real change does not stem from these tactics. They only cause division, alienation, and bitterness.

How did I become that person? It happened because it was exhilarating. Every time I would call someone racist or sexist, I would get a rush. That rush would then be reaffirmed and sustained by the stars, hearts, and thumbs-up that constitute the nickels and dimes of social media validation. The people giving me these stars, hearts, and thumbs-up were engaging in their own cynical game: A fear of being targeted by the mob induces us to signal publicly that we are part of it.


When my callouts were met with approval and admiration, I was lavished with praise: “Thank you so much for speaking out!” “You’re so brave!” “We need more men like you!”

Then one day, suddenly, I was accused of some of the very transgressions I’d called out in others. I was guilty, of course: There’s no such thing as due process in this world. And once judgment has been rendered against you, the mob starts combing through your past, looking for similar transgressions that might have been missed at the time. I was now told that I’d been creating a toxic environment for years at my workplace; that I’d been making the space around me unsafe through microaggressions and macroaggressions alike.

Social justice is a surveillance culture, a snitch culture. The constant vigilance on the part of my colleagues and friends did me in. That’s why I’m delivering sushi and pizza. Not that I’m complaining. It’s honest work, and it’s led me to rediscover how to interact with people in the real world. I am a kinder and more respectful person now that I’m not regularly on social media attacking people for not being “kind” and “respectful.”

I mobbed and shamed people for incidents that became front page news. But when they were vindicated or exonerated by some real-world investigation, it was treated as a footnote by my online community. If someone survives a social justice callout, it simply means that the mob has moved on to someone new. No one ever apologizes for a false accusation, and everyone has a selective memory regarding what they’ve done.


The social justice vigilantism I was living on Twitter and Facebook was like the app in my dream. Aggressive online virtue signaling is a fundamentally two-dimensional act. It has no human depth. It’s only when we snap out of it, see the world as it really is, and people as they really are, that we appreciate the destruction and human suffering we caused when we were trapped inside.

The anecdote is taken from Grandstanding: The Use and Abuse of Moral Talk, by Justin Tosi & Brandon Warmke,

Teaching Physics and having success at it: Millikan

Teaching Physics and having success at it:
At the close of my sophomore year [...] my Greek professor [...] asked me to teach the course in elementary physics in the preparatory department during the next year. To my reply that I did not know any physics at all, his answer was, "Anyone who can do well in my Greek can teach physics." "All right," said I, "you will have to take the consequences, but I will try and see what I can do with it." I at once purchased an Avery's Elements of Physics, and spent the greater part of my summer vacation of 1889 at home – trying to master the subject. [...] I doubt if I have ever taught better in my life than in my first course in physics in 1889. I was so intensely interested in keeping my knowledge ahead of that of the class that they may have caught some of my own interest and enthusiasm.

(Wikipedia page on Millikan,, retrieved Jul 27 2020)