3. Authoritarianism

This section is on Authoritarianism. Authoritarians feel essentially dependent on authority.


Conform [Andringa, 2013] authority is defined as the capacity to create, maintain, or influence the living environment (of one self and/or for others).

This definition entails that whenever individuals do not know how to self-maintain their living environment, they rely on “authority” to keep it within manageable bounds. This need for authority scales therefore inversely with the scope of inadequacy to create, maintain, or influence living environments: the more pervasive the inadequacy and the greater the need for authority. Conversely, the better individuals cope with and maintain their own living environment the less they need authorities.

Within the domain of political psychology the group is known as authoritarians and the second as libertarians ([Stenner, 2005], [Stenner, 2009]). Karen Stenner concludes that authoritarians prefer (centralized) group authority and uniformity, while libertarians prefer (decentralized) individual authority and diversity. The predictability of authoritarian behavior has been studied in detail in “The Authoritarian Dynamic” [Stenner, 2005]. Authoritarianism is characterized by a strong tendency of authoritarians to maximize oneness (via central control) and sameness (via common standards), especially in conditions where the things that make us one and the same—common authority, and shared values—appear to be under threat.

This section studies the consequences and causes of authoritarian behavior and a number of fundamental differences between authoritarians and libertarians. In particular discusses almost polar opposite morals of, especially, the fearful authoritarian and the libertarian.


  • Andringa, T. C., van den Bosch, K. A., & Vlaskamp, C. (2013). Learning autonomy in two or three steps: linking open-ended development, authority, and agency to motivation. Frontiers in Psychology, 18. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00766. Source

  • Stenner, Karen. 2005. The Authoritarian Dynamic. First Edition. New York: Cambridge University Press.

  • Stenner, K. 2009. “‘Conservatism,’ Context-Dependence, and Cognitive Incapacity.” Psychological Inquiry 20 (2): 189–195.

Section overview

    1. Authoritarians versus libertarians
    2. Normative threats
    3. Authoritarian conscience
    4. Three sets of morals
    5. Relation with Haidt’s moral theory
    6. Cognitive (in)capacity
    7. Thought policing
    8. Intelligence versus understanding