Why are Americans so much more authoritarian than Canadians? According to a survey by American business intelligence company Morning Consult, the U.S. has twice as many right-wing authoritarians as Canada and more yet than other Western countries. The table on the right shows the survey results for low and high right-wing authoritarianism (RWA).

Morning Consult based their survey on the 20-question scale developed by University of Manitoba psychologist Bob Altemeyer. Altemeyer defined RWA as a personality type that seeks submission to some authority; that wants everyone to follow the norms and social conventions of that authority; and that is aggressive toward those who the authority has sanctioned as enemies. Such people exhibit little trust for government, science and the mainstream media.

The rabble that stormed the Capitol in Washington on January 6th would serve as exemplars of the high RWA personality. So, I expect, would those Trudeau-haters who occupied Ottawa for rhree weeks this winter.

So we have our RWAs, too, but why do the Americans have so many more? I can suggest a few reasons. For instance, the strength of fundamentalist Christianity in the US. Fundamentalism is a nursery for self-righteous believers. It creates a fear of the world, and of differences, while demanding unquestioning obedience to the one and only Truth.

And then there’s the toxic polarization of American politics, aided and abetted by vicious right-wing media, with one party embracing illiberalism, or in its American form Trumpism. Added to this is growing economic inequality, and racism, the country’s lingering nemesis. Furthermore, people tend to become more RWA during a crisis and Covid has provided that.

The result is a recipe for fascism. The recipe has been thoroughly cooked up by Trump, and is now being sampled by a large portion of the Republican Party.

It’s not only high RWAs we should be concerned about, however. Many of us have at least some authoritarian sympathies ourselves. They leave us susceptible to manipulation by populists adept at political pitches that target our fears and grievances, and our tribalism.

So, how about you dear reader, how authoritarian are you? You can take the test, the one used by Morning Consult, here. It only takes three minutes. I scored 34 on a scale from 20 (lowRWA) to 180 (high RWA). Whew!

One thought on “The authoritarian Americans”
  1. I definitely vote for fundamentalism in the USA and the other reasons seem likely though I suspect a good bit of this is more an outcome of the authoritarianism and fundamentalism.
    I found it interesting that Altemeyer reports that many of his students’ scores declined as they went through university.

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