The Authoritarian Dynamic

Karen Stenner

This was originally a library loan and is not on my own shelves, but I sank so much time into parsing this terse and didactic work that I need a record of actually having attempted it.

This book is in the same field of political psychology as the far more popular ebook called “The Authoritarians,” written by Bob Altemeyer, which is often passed around various online forums as an introduction to understanding the sometimes-outlandish thought processes behind the dominant right-wing in the United States. Altemeyer's ebook was written for a general audience, a summary of several decades of experimental research, but it was a book that I had to take with some grains of salt. In scientific psychology, the “conscientious” personality trait is the most highly correlated with authoritarian and conservative viewpoints, but of the Big Five it is the most difficult trait to measure and observe in the lab. Most measurements of conscientiousness are not genuine, simply because it reacts differently under experimental environments as opposed to the real world. This tainted Altemeyer's data pool and invalidated his conclusions, no matter how interesting they were.

I heard Stenner's thesis was proposed to be a workaround to these setbacks, and while I saw some bits and pieces of how it could've theoretically worked, I'll fully admit that I just couldn't understand it. My main difficulties stemmed from how her model was fully bivariate and nonlinear—the first bivariate model I've ever encountered—making use of multiple variables and as much statistical accuracy as she could manage. The breadth of the work was too large for me to wrap my head around, even though I could gleam a few interesting points from it.

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