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What is an Authoritarian Personality?

By Debra Durkee
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The authoritarian personality is a personality type of an individual who puts his or her value in strength and leadership, and believes that those who are not like-minded or in agreement are simply weak. An individual with this type of personality is often unwavering and critical, with a superstitious and unfailing belief that a power larger than him or herself is governing fate. During the mid-1940s, researchers first developed theories that racism is also an inherent part of an authoritarian personality.

The rise of Hitler and the Third Reich sparked an interest in this type of personality. For those outside the phenomenon, it was largely unknown as to how such racist and radical ideas could capture an entire nation. University of California researcher Theodor Adorno examined the authoritarian personality in detail, relating it to one of the most tragically well-known of individuals possessing this personality type: Adolf Hitler. Part of the result of his research was the F-scale; this personality test measured the level of an individual's fascist ideals.

Those with this type of personality tend to believe that there are weak people and there are strong people, and that the world would be a better place if the strong were in power and the weak were subservient. They tend to be hostile toward those who do not agree with this philosophy; imagination is often viewed as impractical, and those who are subservient to the authoritarian point of view are often granted a form of respect for knowing and acknowledging the right path. There is a tendency to blame the problems of the world on a particular group of people, which leads to the development of racism and hatred.

There is typically some form of a strong leader in the life of an individual with an authoritative personality, whether it is that particular person, a parent, or other partner. Even though he or she generally has a negative view of the world as a whole, this opinion is typically focused on one type of person, whether it be characterized by race, gender, religion, or other factors. The authoritarian personality can believe that the world would be a better place without this group, and is not afraid to say so.

Hitler is often used as the role model for the authoritarian personality. From being a strong leader to blaming a specific group for the world's problems as well as having an unwavering belief in fate and an irrational concern with the private lives of the masses, he is used to illustrate the danger of an unchecked authoritarian personality. This continues through the characteristics of this personality type, right through to an exaggerated ego and the obsession with subservience.

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