Friday, August 01, 2003


I pointed out recently that the “Intolerance of ambiguity” concept much beloved by the Berkeley group as a means of trashing conservatives is essentially a “unicorn” concept -- no such trait or consistent tendency to behave actually exists. The same person will tolerate ambiguity in one situation but not in another.

It turns out that “attitude to authority” is another such unicorn. An integral part of the orthodox but perverse Leftist claim that conservatives are “authoritarian” is the assumption that acceptance of one sort of authority generalizes to accepting all sorts of authority. For a long time I myself took that assumption as read -- but then the evidence began to pile up.

Much of the evidence concerned is given in Ray & Lovejoy (1990) and more can be found towards the end of my paper here under the heading: How general is attitude to authority?. What the evidence shows is that correlations between attitudes to different types of authority vary from population to population and that attitudes to what would seem like very similar instances of authority sometimes correlate very little.

So it seems that people are very discriminating in what authorities they will accept. Accepting the respect-worthiness of one authority in one field does not at all automatically imply that you will respect all authorites. It will all depend on the circumstances. Conservatives, for instance, have traditionally shown more respect than Leftists for the law and for teachers but the recent antics of the U.S. Supreme Court over affirmative action and the fanatical Leftism of the NEA would almost certainly reveal a much diminished respect for both if a survey were taken among conservatives today.

And Leftists themselves are a prime example of how attitudes to authority can be highly differentiated. Respect for the President of the United States at the moment is undoubtedly zero among virtually all Leftists but the utterances of Fidel Castro are on the other hand still treated like gold. And there was never any shortage of Leftist admirers for the terminally authoritarian Joe Stalin. And what is the basic Leftist program if it is not to replace all the existing "powers that be" with a Leftist regime that will have all-pervasive authority over all spheres of life? Leftists reject much existing authority vigorously -- but only because they want to replace it with another much more powerful governmental authority of their own. The claim that they are generally anti-authority is a joke.

So the whole Leftist claim that accepting one authority is part of a general tendency to accept all authorities is in fact worse than a unicorm concept. It is arrant nonsense. So the old Leftist claim that conservatives are chronic worshippers of authority as such falls flat. NOBODY is -- or at least no significant part of the population is.

Paul Walfield makes the reasonable point that for people who claim to oppose stereotyping, the Berkeley psychologists sure are good at stereotyping conservatives. A bit like the Leftist passion for “diversity” on campus -- a “diversity” that somehow excludes almost entirely any conservatives from the faculty of social science and humanities schools. What hypocrites!


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