Dennis Clayson is a marketing professor at UNI.
Who is an authoritarian? Ironically, there is one strongly held belief in America shared by both the right and the left. Both sides are convinced that the other side is composed of authoritarians who will restrict or eliminate cherished freedoms.
The actual definition of the term "authoritarian" is not even debated. Both sides agree that it can be defined as relating to or favoring submission to authority, or as favoring the concentration of power in a leader or an elite not constitutionally responsible to the people.
Authoritarianism is also characterized by highly concentrated and centralized power. Both sides of the political spectrum agree that authoritarians will seek political power by the repression and exclusion of other groups and ideas.
Those who fancy themselves as being wise and superior maintain that they would never be subject to ideas and ideologies that they have not completely and subjectively analyzed, but …
Then the "but" will come down as a judgment of the ideology they disagree with, parroted almost word-for-word in the language and constructs of the side they actually have embraced.
These superior people will quote Vladimir Lenin, who once said, "He who is not with us is against us." Then to show their balance, they will quote George W. Bush who said, "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."
One way of maintaining this vanity of superiority is to turn your bias into a science. We see this all too often on almost any issue in which one side wants the other side to "shut up." Consider global warming as exhibit one.
Since the 1980s, there has actually been a theory in social psychology and political science called "right wing authoritarianism." It is abbreviated as RWA. Those on the right who suffer from RWA value uniformity and advocate for collective authority, including force if necessary to achieve it.
Just think of Hitler and you can fill in whatever blanks you may have of the concept.
To make their point, these social scientists will ironically point to individuals and groups who are now opposed to centralized federal power.
You see, authoritarian types seek simple answers to complex questions and put too much faith in their leaders. Of course, conservatives would maintain that this statement applies almost perfectly to Obama supporters.
The social scientists maintain that those subject to RWA are actually led by people who cynically take advantage of their mindset. Examples include leaders who are opportunistic and manipulative, characterized by Republican presidential candidates and people such as Sarah Palin.
I did not make this up.
These leaders simplify complex issues and supply the simple answers their followers demand. Sufferers of RWA, according to modern "science," are not logical and are comfortable with contradictory beliefs. At this point, the tea party may be drawn upon as a self-evident example.
These sources will use terms to describe authoritarian conservatives such as "they can’t see" certain contradictions and subtleties that they, of course, can see.
All of these traits can be seen in the left as well. Some social scientists have suggested that authoritarianism is actually characterized as an advanced stage of liberal democracy. Jonah Goldberg sees few major distinctions between modern liberalism and classical fascism.
In politics, those on the left are constantly condemning the right for not compromising, while those on the right maintain that the left has no intention of compromising.
There is one important distinction between the right and left, and that is in what should be controlled. The right would use the power of government to restrict abortions. The left would use the power of government to restrict medical choice. The left would use power to restrict economic freedom, while the right would restrict the definition of marriage.
Of course, I am convinced that liberalism is almost off the charts on authoritarianism. It is difficult to find almost anything, outside of sex and its consequences, which the modern American left does not want a central authority to control.