Campaign watch: Authoritarians to the right of me!


So Professor Taub has now said:
A terrible but important fact just keeps on emerging.

Here it is:

Along with our intellectual leaders, we the liberals just aren't especially sharp.

This flies in the face of our tribal self-image, which holds that we liberals are the smart honest people while the dimwits are all Over There.

That said, it's more clear all the time that we just aren't especially sharp. Consider something Amanda Taub wrote last week in a long, lengthy piece at Vox.

Taub is an adjunct professor in International Law and Human Rights at Fordham. She's also a lawyer who's nine years out of Georgetown Law.

Her most recent Vox piece, which is quite lengthy, appeared on March 1. The lengthy report bears this scary headline:

"The rise of American authoritarianism"

Taub's piece inspired Colbert King's bomb-dropping column in Saturday's Washington Post. King's column carries this headline on line:

"Trump: The authoritarian’s candidate of choice"

For our previous report on King's piece, you can just click here.

We expect to spend a few more days looking at different aspects of Taub's lengthy piece. For today, let's consider one particular thing she wrote.

In her piece, Taub excitedly claims that recent work in the social sciences has uncovered "an unnoticed but surprisingly large electoral group [in the United States]—authoritarians."

In her next paragraph, she expands on that claim in dramatic fashion. She says that, by 2009, "the GOP, by positioning itself as the party of traditional values and law and order, had unknowingly attracted what would turn out to be a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies."

Let's ask and answer two questions:

Does the American electorate contain a "surprisingly large" number of "authoritarians?"

Everything is possible! Needless to say, it all depends on what the meaning of "authoritarian" is! Also "surprisingly large!"

Does the electorate contain "a vast and previously bipartisan population of Americans with authoritarian tendencies?"

Once again, it all depends on what the meaning of "authoritarian tendencies" is! Also, how big is "vast?"

How many "authoritarians" are found in the U.S. electorate? We can't answer that question. That said, sensible people should perhaps be a bit careful when they start employing that term—a term which is almost guaranteed to produce more heat than light.

Professor Taub isn't that person! Later in her lengthy report, she describes the result of some polling she and Vox undertook in connection with her piece. She wrote what follows without betraying the slightest sign that her findings may perhaps seem a bit odd:
TAUB (3/1/16): The first thing that jumped out from the data on authoritarians is just how many there are. Our results found that 44 percent of white respondents nationwide scored as "high" or "very high" authoritarians, with 19 percent as "very high." That's actually not unusual, and lines up with previous national surveys that found that the authoritarian disposition is far from rare.

The key thing to understand is that authoritarianism is often latent; people in this 44 percent only vote or otherwise act as authoritarians once triggered by some perceived threat, physical or social. But that latency is part of how, over the past few decades, authoritarians have quietly become a powerful political constituency without anyone realizing it.
For whatever reason, Taub doesn't say how many black or Hispanic respondents turned out to be authoritarians. That said, let's marvel at the outcome she was prepared to report:

At first glance, a reader might think that Taub said the following: A reader might think she said that 44 percent of white respondents turned out to be authoritarians.

To our mind, that would be a rather remarkable finding. But that isn't what Taub said. She said something much more striking.

Here's what Taub and Vox actually found in the course of their research. They actually found that 44 percent of white respondents are "high" or "very high" authoritarians!

Presumably, the total number of authoritarians would be substantially larger than that! That 44 percent just represents the number of folk who are highly authoritarian, perhaps very highly so.

At times when tribal juices are flowing, does any result make a person like Taub stop to rethink her procedures, her assumptions, her claims?

Apparently not.

Based upon what Taub has written, it seems that substantially more than half of all white Americans turned out to be "authoritarians" in the course of her research. A walloping 44 percent were determined to be "high" or "very high" authoritarians.

Depending on one's definitions, of course, everything is possible. Tomorrow, we'll look at the questions Taub seems to have used to determine Where The Authoritarians Are.

When we do, you may start to feel that her findings aren't quite as startling as they may seem at first glance. But we'll put that off till tomorrow.

That said, the term "authoritarian" carries a very large amount of historical baggage. In our view, people who work with such loaded terms ought to be careful if they venture outside the narrow, egg-headed environments found inside academe.

(Tomorrow, we'll note a peculiar passage from Taub's report concerning this very problem.)

Taub and Vox haven't been especially careful as they have toyed with this term. Last Saturday, they got their first major result—a name-calling column in which Colbert King said he didn't want to paint all Trump voters with the same brush, then proceeded to do something that looked very much like that.

Are 44 percent of us the people highly authoritarian? Taub reported that startling result without even batting an eye.

On the merits, that strikes us as a very unwise claim to make in a non-academic setting. On the politics, it strikes us as the latest horrible gift to Candidate Trump—but when people like Taub start getting scared, they start doing damn-foolish things.

For the past few months, we've been asking a basic question: Do we liberals know how to talk about politics at this point except by dropping our various bombs on the heads of The Others?

Professor Taub and her dean, Ezra Klein, have emerged with a lusty response to our question.

Tomorrow: The banality of (testing for) evil


  1. Absolutely horrified by how white people are treated in this country.


    Milgram's study was conducted to explore existence of an authoritarian personality style that would be more willing to follow orders by inflicting pain on others. He found that most people are authoritarian in that sense -- willing to go the whole distance and inflict shock on others when told to do so under the right conditions. He did not find any particular authoritarian personality more willing to follow such orders.

    That seems consistent with Taub's finding that most white people are authoritarian. She doesn't say, but I suspect most minorities are somewhat authoritarian too, given their tendency to support authoritarian parenting styles. But when everyone is authoritarian, is anyone authoritarian?

  3. Huffington Post is quoting a woman saying that Clinton's lead pipe answer made her vomit in her mouth -- even though her answer and Bernie's were similar, except as usual, hers was more specific. As Drum notes, she mentioned ground and air lead not just paint. Huffington Post doesn't even try to be fair. It is Hillary hate all the time over there.

    1. There is an excessive amount of liberal Hillary hate on Gawker, too, both in the posts and in the comments. Most of it is based on what you might call bumper-sticker history, simplified catch phrases substitute for knowledge of complex historical actions or events.

    2. Liberals can also be very mean in addition to not smart. Conservatives are obviously mean as hell too

    3. How dare Huffington Post quote the woman who actually asked the question to get her reaction.

      And bless our HuffPo monitor @ 3:38 for not telling Bob readers who that woman was. It might have made them see she had even more credibility on the issue.

    4. As if this matters.

    5. Totally, as if.

    6. "'Conservatives are obviously mean as hell too' and dumb as a box of rocks - take David in Cal, for example."


  4. I agree with Jesus, might does not make right.

    Seems like whether people behave in an authoritarian personality style or not can vary from moment to moment, depending on the situation and how informed people are.

    An argument might be that how informed people are should be the focus over nebulous ideas about authoritarian personality style; that being misinformed leads to Trump being popular more so than issues related to authoritarian personality style.

  5. Even aside from whether Taub's arguments are sound, the article just wasn't well written. I figured she was right out of college, checked her bio, and was surprised to see she was formerly a human rights lawyer...

    1. Given the quality of writing in your comment please refrain in the future from being critical of the quality of anyone else's writing.

      I figure you had trouble in high school composition.

  6. Meredith's Crying MopMarch 7, 2016 at 11:23 PM

    I look forward to BSomerby revealing his insight into yet another academic discipline in which he has the same dearth of qualifications he has revealed in his influential critiques of many other fields.

    He may eventually wander back into the new pavilion whose contruction he touted but seems to have recently been unable to find again.

  7. I think I get it. If Trump hadn't focused on immigration and trade then he would be just a normal Republican and not an authoritarian. We know this because there were no articles about Romney and authoritarianism in 2012.

    1. No. The issue is not Romney or Trump. It is their voters. You didn't get the articles in 2012 because nobody asked the right questions of Mitt's people.

    2. Clinton doesn't pretend to be holier than thou. Bernie does.

    3. Clinton pretended she was broke in 2000.

      But what do either Hillary or Sanders have to do with authoritarian voters?

  8. "Though the National Rifle Association isn’t known for supporting Democrats, on Monday the organization tweeted praise for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) after he backed gunmakers’ immunity from certain types of lawsuits during Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate."

    You have to dance with the one that brung you.

    1. Bernie made his bed with the gun lobby just as the Clintons bedded down with Wall Street and the private prison crowd.

      We need Nader to bring these Neo-libs to heel once again.

    2. Dave the Guitar PlayerMarch 8, 2016 at 1:28 PM

      Say what you like about Bernie and Hillary, I am not going to vote for Donald Drumpf or cast my non-vote for Donald Drumpf.

  9. Is the emerging fact that liberals aren't very sharp a bigger threat to the tribe than the previously revealed fact that liberals are dumb. disliked, and of dubious morals?

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