Authoritarian Followers - Causal Linkage to Perceptions of Moral Divide


The Living Force
I've been sensing we may soon see a shift away from liberalism toward conservatism in Canada, and it will likely come with a form of authoritarianism. One could argue many supposedly left-leaning nations have already moved toward an authoritarian leadership through their response to COVID-19, but I suspect this is just the beginning of a transition toward right-wing authoritarianism. While we have a foundational understanding of authoritarianism through the works of, for example, Altemeyer and Lobaczewski, I see political philosophers have yet to fully identify left-wing authoritarians as equal in size and tendency toward evil than their right-wing equivalent. And yet, for the last several years, we have been living with the Orwellian Newspeak and the threat of Thoughtcrime accusations from the left.

As a former leftist who no longer can find himself along the political spectrum in any meaningful way, I am trying to better understand why my (mostly-former) leftist friends cannot see their tendency toward moral superiority, self-righteousness and, frankly, fascism.

A recent article PsyPost's site (Study provides first evidence of a causal link between perceived moral division and support for authoritarian leaders) reports on research that demonstrates how individual perceptions that society is moving away from certain morals and heading toward societal breakdown creates a moral divide which, in turn, leads to supporting authoritarian leaders to swing society back to moral balance. Of course, historically, this usually results in a pendulum swing toward the opposite extreme, at least for a while. While I find this study, in and of itself, quite interesting, it did occur to me that knowing this mechanism exists in society makes it an easy lever to pull for the PTB to convince society to give up its right collective self determination and hand it over to authoritarians. Perhaps I already knew this intuitively, but this helps my mind play catch-up.
Study provides first evidence of a causal link between perceived moral division and support for authoritarian leaders
New research indicates that heightened perceptions of moral division intensify support for strong leaders. The study, published in Political Psychology, found that the perceived breakdown of society plays a key role in this relationship.

“I think increasingly we are seeing societal divisions play out on moral grounds,” said study author Charlie R. Crimston (@drCharlie_C), a research fellow at the University of Queensland. “We know that when our moral convictions clash things can become pretty toxic (e.g., we become highly emotional, intolerant, and more accepting of violence to achieve desired ends; Skitka et al., 2021). I wanted to know what some of the consequences might be when we were talking about society-wide moral divisions. What happens to societies who perceive they are in an existential fight for their moral futures?”

In a series of three studies, the researchers surveyed 486 individuals from the United Kingdom, 383 individuals from Australia, and 396 individuals from the United States. The participants were asked the extent to which they believed there was an overlap in core moral values between the two major parties in their political system. They also completed an assessment of anomie, meaning the perception that social systems have begun to fall apart.

Crimston and her colleagues found that heightened moral polarization predicted increased support for strong leaders via perceived anomie in society. In other words, those who believed the moral values of the two parties were vastly different from each other were more likely to agree with statements such as “Politicians don’t care about the problems of the average person” and “People do not know who they can trust and rely on,” which in turn was associated with support for leaders who are “willing to break the rules” and “challenge the elites and wealthy corporations.”

“The study found that if people believed there was a breakdown in societal fabric, they were more likely to elect an authoritarian figure to restore order, such as Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson,” Crimston said in a news release. “On the other hand, if there is a feeling of lack of leadership in society, voters may be drawn to a progressive leader to unify and lead the country in a new direction, such as Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”

But the findings from the surveys only provided correlational data, leaving cause-and-effect relationships unclear. To test for causality, the researchers conducted a second study with 399 U.S. participants using an experimental design that manipulated perceived moral polarization.

Participants were asked to imagine they were a citizen of a fictional society called Orinthia, which was dominated by two political parties. They were then randomly assigned to watch one of two videos about the political situation of Orinthia. One video demonstrated substantial moral and ideological consensus between the two major political parties (the low polarization condition), while the other video demonstrated the opposite (the high polarization condition).

The researchers found that participants in the high polarization condition reported an increased need for a strong leader in Orinthia and were more likely to perceive higher levels of anomie.

“Our research is the first that provides evidence of the causal links between perceived moral division in society and the desire to elect extreme leaders as a potential solution,” Crimston told PsyPost. “Basically, when we think opposing groups in society hold incompatible moral views and that society was facing a battle of ‘good versus evil,’ we are more likely to think that society is breaking down. In turn, we are more likely to see extreme authoritarian leaders as a potential solution. So, we see an increased desire to elect these extreme leaders, who chances are, will ultimately seek to divide us even further.”

“However, broadly speaking, we actually tend to agree on more than we realize and it is the perception that our society is divided that presents more of a threat than the actual divisions that do exist,” Crimston added. “Our perceptions about society becoming increasingly divided and that the moral fabric of society is collapsing are more the realistic threats to social cohesion and political stability. As such, we need to be particularly wary of people who play into these narratives for their own gain — whether that be politicians, media commentators, or interest groups.”

But the study, like all research, includes some limitations. Samples were drawn from countries with democratic two-party political systems. It is unclear how well the results generalize to other political contexts.

“While it is telling that we found these links not only in the United States but in Australia and the United Kingdom as well, it remains to be seen whether moral polarization will have similar impacts in non-liberal two-party democracies (i.e., in non-Western countries, or countries that lack a clear two-party political system). Personally, I think moral polarization has the power to be pretty destructive across cultures, but more research is needed before we can say this with any certainty.”

The study, “Moral Polarization Predicts Support for Authoritarian and Progressive Strong Leaders via the Perceived Breakdown of Society“, was authored by Charlie R. Crimston, Hema Preya Selvanathan, and Jolanda Jetten.
So, dividing a nation into camps where each side believes they are alone hold the right view of morality and that the other side is eroding it, makes for a perfect environment for authoritarian takeover without the messiness of overt coups and, instead, by invitation (if not begging and pleading).
It's not I guess a new perspective in the context of the traditions...

The only real difference between the left and the right G when moving towards the polarities where the players are determined to impose or at least pressure others to doing their will is perhaps that the stated ideologies differ.

The underlying motivation is in both cases the same....

These days it has become socially and politically useful to claim more enlightened motivations. Naked authoritarianism has struggled to retain support in numbers, so it's been wrapped up in all sorts of fluffy ideologies to disguise it.

The system feeds bullets to the insecure (and mostly rooted in herarchical thinking) majority that are just starting to think about values - with the result that they (the latter) unthinkingly in many cases utilise the resulting rationalisations to indiscriminately judge others in an attempt to feel better about themselves.

They must fail in this last regard, but the pattern encourages control-minded thinking and sets people against each other.

The elites then use the resulting powerful and politically correct (but ultimately superficial) memes (created mostly via the media) all of the time to divide potential opposition and justify the imposition of their will - by dressing their self-interested actions up as being for the greater good.

We're right now collectively in the middle of a crash course in the recognition that this is how most of our world is run.

Authoritarian hierarchies by definition suck the least suited into leadership positions – perhaps a mechanism the cosmos/Divine will uses to shove negativity into plain view. Also to ensure that the resulting autocracies must inevitably consume themselves and eventually collapse. :-)

The problem of course is the sub-optimal living and suffering caused for all and sundry, especially when this last occurs.

Genuine wisdom and compassion on the other hand tend to require an awful lot more courage and independence of mind than the average person is prepared to muster - the deeply conditioned and unthinking perception of most is that staying clean in the short term/aligned with the values and requirements of the various power-based hierarchies they encounter is the best bet for a comfortable life.

This rather than thinking through and doing what is genuinely correct for both self and the wider society. (self-interest and service to others thinking converge when viewed over a long enough time scale)

It's not as somebody observed by accident that it's been the often self-employed truckers used to running their own businesses and thinking on their feet that have stepped up to the mark in Canada - as opposed to for example the ever so correct urban jobsworths.

True growth can only happen when individuals are free to creatively express themselves and to choose to co-operate. On the other hand the finer the order of control (even if it’s masked by all sorts of politically correct ideologies and/or supposedly ‘for the the greater good’ initiatives) the more entropic and energetically destructive the resulting system becomes…

The trouble of course is that as above many deep down don't actually want the responsibility and exposure that true freedom brings.

Time will tell how the current scenario plays out, it certainly seems likely that if the current elites retain control we will quickly descend into the sort of IT and tech enabled and micro-controlled authoritarian dydtopia that many see looming on the horizon.

The miracle is what is happening right now – stuff like the Canadian, French, Austrian and other protests. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary people around the world joining week after week in huge but peaceful protests – and resisting intense provocation, media lies and even staged events to keep them that way.

That is the true hope for the future, it means (in terms of awakening at least - there could yet be setbacks) that it’s all to play for...
Last edited:
Top Bottom