We make some of our greatest gains
when we see old things in new ways
By now, a significant number of people have compared Bush to Hitler. What's more, not all of them belong to the wild-eyed crowd of conspiracy buffs who believe that bringing down the WTC on 9/11 was an inside job. Some of the more levelheaded types include John Dean; a man who certainly knows what it's like to be on the inside of a true conspiracy. He was, as you may recall, part of Richard Nixon's White House way back in the 70's. Now, along with writing a couple of best selling books, he's joined the ranks of those speaking out against what they contend are the current President's blatant violations of the Constitution - the Constitution he's sworn to protect. Indeed, Dean argues that Bush is a far more worthy candidate for impeachment than Nixon ever was - with the Clinton brouhaha being merely a footnote in the Right's eternal War On Sex. So what is it about Bush, you may well ask, that draws such comparisons with Hitler and Nixon - the former Nazi and the former crook?
In the late 40's and early 50's, after World War II was finally over, many people wanted to know how that horrific conflict could have ever happened, and could it be prevented from happening again? While the Japanese were seen as being very different from Americans, the Germans were seen almost as family. In fact, there were nearly as many German families here as in Germany.
So how could the people of Deutschland willingly follow a man like Hitler, and support a regime that was responsible for so many atrocities? Since hundreds of the civil and military leaders were subsequently imprisoned or executed for crimes against humanity, then surely the people must have been aware of what was going on, and just as surely they must have played a part.
This would probably be a good time to remind readers that, after every war, it's the victors who write the history books. In any conflict, each side is going to try to vilify the other. Propaganda will be spread, and minor misdemeanors will be exaggerated into major crimes. This is an old story, and it applies equally to world wars and family feuds. We're the good guys and they're the bad guys. So what made THEM so different from US - so much "badder" - this time around?
Alas, this is the very notion that was turned upside down - they weren't "badder" at all! Researchers conducting carefully designed and controlled studies found that there were just as many people here who would willing engage in atrocities, as there were in any other part of the world. One of the now classic experiments went something like this: A subject was told that he would be taking part in research involving motivation and learning. His job was to administer electric shocks to another person who was supposed to have memorized a long list of words. Every time a mistake was made, a shock was delivered. What's more, as the mistakes increased so did the strength of the shocks.
Of course, there were no painful jolts. It was all a setup to see just how many people would actually subject others to painful, potentially fatal shocks, if ordered to do so by an authority figure. The ones who did were classified as Authoritarian Personalities, and this is the group that John Dean describes in great detail in Conservatives Without Conscience.
There are a number of characteristics peculiar to this personality type, but perhaps the most obvious is their need to be part of a social hierarchy. They believe that there are people above them who must be given unquestioning loyalty, and that there are people below them who are of no consequence. They give obedience to those higher up, and expect it from those lower down. Like an enlisted soldier lacking any sense of morality, they would massacre men, women and children if ordered to do so by a superior officer. If you keep this one characteristic in mind - that all others are perceived as being either above or below them - then their behavior in all areas of life makes perfect sense.
These are the people (about a third of the population, by the way) who demand laws to control individual lifestyles. Because they lack internal restraints themselves, they want the government to keep everyone in line. Just consider that former Drug Czar and that popular talk radio host who were both exposed as addicts - the former to gambling, the latter to drugs (and both of them, considering their obesity, to food as well). These are the individuals who cry out for ever more draconian laws designed to intrude into private lives. Interestingly enough, sensing their own lack of morals, they are quick to point to the supposed failings of other individuals, and they enjoy nothing more than trying to set standards for everyone else.
It's wise to be suspicious of anyone who complains about rampant immorality and contends that the whole nation is going to Hell. Quite often their outrage centers on sex, and just as often they themselves exhibit correspondingly poor adjustment in this area. Witness just the most recent flock of preachers exposed as sexual deviates. They are notably insecure in their daily lives, and as a result, can become aggressive - even violent - when defending/promoting their beliefs. Divided into Followers and Social Dominators, they can be either male or female. Most often though, Authoritarian Personalities are males. Being amoral, they will say or do anything, and certainly won't hesitate to distort facts in their quest for power. They pick on the weak, accept torture as an expedient, are not self-critical, and believe they have the answer to every question. This makes any attempt at negotiation pointless. Few things frighten them as much as change, and any deviation from what they feel is the norm, is considered evil. Organized religion is not to be doubted, and faith trumps reason every time.
Look At It This Way
While one may choose to agree or disagree with John Dean regarding his political views, there is no doubt that the concept of an Authoritarian Personality very accurately describes a very real personality type. But what's truly amazing is that although social scientists have been aware of this set of character traits for half a century, the general public remains almost totally unaware of the mental makeup that governs the thoughts and behaviors of a fair number of their friends, neighbors and elected officials. They include those who see changing one's mind, after coming to a clearer understanding of a problem, as flip-flopping and something to be avoided at all cost; those who, lacking any internalized controls themselves, can't distinguish between use and abuse, and so continue to rally 'round the failed policies of prohibition with ever more fanatical punishments for transgressors; those who, intimately in touch with their own sinful desires, are compelled to peer into everyone else's private life in a desperate search to find similarly offensive behavior, and thus lessen the repugnance of their own clandestine longings; those who view the world in black and white, lacking any sense of compassion or empathy, believing their beliefs are all that matter and any attempt at a mutual understanding is a sign of weakness; those who would say or do anything, including lying and cheating, killing and torturing, to assert and protect their privileged position; those who would willingly send others to fight and die for their country when they themselves, confronted with the same call to serve, contrived to abrogate such duty and dodge any such sacrifice.
WARNING: Authoritarianism has been shown to be hazardous to the health and well being of Democracy.
You may contact the author through this publication or send an email directly to DrSBMason (at) aol.com.