3.2 Normative threats

Social norms — and not a deep understanding of society — form the eternal and unquestionable basis of authoritarian behavior; consequently authoritarians cannot respond flexibly to changing social norms. In fact they respond highly fearful to what Stenner calls normative threats (2005, p17)

I refer to these critical catalysts as “normative threats” or “threat to the normative order”. By the “normative order” I simply mean some system of oneness and sameness that makes “us” an “us”: some demarcation of people, authorities, institutions, values, and norms that for some folks at some point defines who “we” are, and what “we” believe in. “Normative threads” are then threats to this oneness and sameness. In diverse and complex modern societies, the things that make us one and the same are common authority and shared values. The conditions most threatening to oneness and sameness, then, are questioned or questionable authorities and values: that is, disrespect for leaders or leaders unworthy of respect, and lack of conformity to or consensus in group values, norms, and beliefs. [Original emphasis]

Stenner defines normative threads as changes to oneness — adherence to norms — and sameness — how divers the group is in coping behavior. For authoritarians these are the central indicators of the adequacy of their coping behaviors and to determine who is good and who is bad. Together they form the well from which all purposeful behavior they are capable of stems from. And when this well cannot generate rich enough behavior to control their environment, they feel trapped in it. So a normative challenge is, for an authoritarian, a direct attack to their ability to cope and therefore their ability to feel in control.

The authoritarian dynamic

Stenner calls this the authoritarian dynamic which she describes as:

“intolerance = authoritarianism × threat”

The stronger the authoritarian tendencies and the stronger the threat level, the stronger the intolerance to differences. This entails that the authoritarian will show quite predictable behavior in times of fear: (s)he will be intolerant to (perceived) influences that make the world more difficult to cope with and will do everything to reduce the world’s complexity to manageable levels or simply to prevent it from increasing. This of course leads naturally to the assignment of other people into ingroups (who do not raise or threaten to raise complexity levels beyond coping capacity) and outgroups (who do).

In practice this entails that the authoritarian has two sets of moral standards: for normal situations norm compliance for safety and suppression of diversity and, in times of fear, intolerance of diversity. The true libertarian has a single set of moral values that can be summarized as one is free in one’s activities as long as these do not harm others or hinder their activities. This totals to three sets of morals.

Another direct and geopolitical consequence of this is the origin of terrorism. For the typical authoritarian, normal behavior of others — especially of those who are either more libertarians or who adhere to a different set of (perceived) cultural norms — might already be fear inducing because it might lead to a more complex society.

The root cause of terrorism

The more pronounced the cognitive incapacity of the authoritarians and the more an atmosphere of fear is created, the stronger the existential fear of the authoritarian becomes of loosing a sense of personal adequacy and the more the authoritarian turns to authorities to reestablish a sense of personal adequacy. Terrorism aimed at the own population is probably the most effective way to bolster authorities: even deeply corrupt ones.

For example the NATO has used terrorism since the late 1950’s under the code name Gladio. Typically by supporting and coaching right wing groups. Italian neo-fascist Vincezo Vinciguerra explained his NATO/CIA marching orders in the 1970’s as follows:

“You had to attack civilians, the people, women, children, innocent people, unknown people far removed from any political game. The reason was quite simple. They were supposed to force these people, the Italian public, to turn to the state to ask for greater security.”

This use of terrorism for this purpose is called a Strategy of Tension. And there are clear signs that it is still executed in the US.

Probably it is a global default strategy. This site assumes that Terrorism can only be understood in terms of state-actors (Intelligence agencies such as MI6 and the CIA) and non-state actors (e.g., groups of investors who benefit from particular geopolitical developments). Probably there is no real difference between the two. The groups who eventually execute the terror (or who either claim credit for it or are blamed for it) are simply (authoritarian) tools in the hands of skilled manipulators.