I realize that my making this book available for free on the internet raises questions about my judgment, especially since I am a psychologist. The well-known theory of cognitive dissonance says that people will value something more if they pay a lot of money to get it. So how much will people value what they get for free? Also, if somebody can make money off a book, how much common sense can he have if he gives it away? Why should you read a book written by someone who has so little common sense?

There’s a lot of convincing evidence that dissonance theory is right, and so I am running the risk of your saying, It can’t be any good if it’s free. But there is another psychological principle which says if people experience something that meets a need, it will be a rewarding experience. So even though this book is free, I hope that you will find it worth your reading, and that if you think it’s a good book, you will tell others about this web site so they can read it too. I’m not doing any advertising in the New York Times.

If you want to know why I’m passing on the big bucks, fame, and cocktail party hors d’oeuvres that a blockbuster best seller brings an author, it’s partly because this book would never have rung up big sales. I did make one attempt to place it with a A ‘trade’ publisher, but when their editor said no I stopped acting out of habit and started reflecting. I think what I have found is rather important to the survival of American democracy. As such, it should be made available to everyone, and be essentially free. The “www” makes this possible, and that is why we have met here. So how do you do? Allow me to introduce my friend in the photo above, whose name is Harvey.O


If it turns out you do not like this book, blame John Dean. You never would have heard of my research if he had not recently plowed through my studies, trying to understand, first, various people he knew in the Nixon White House, and then some leading figures of the Republican Party of 2004. John Dean is quite a guy. I think I offended him once by addressing him as “Honest John,” which I meant in the sense of “Honest Abe.” John strikes one with his candor and openness. I treasure his friendship as much as I treasure his unfailing help. Some of his closest friends, I have discovered, go back to his high school days. I think that says a lot about a person, especially given what John went through in the 1970s. The “former counsel to the president” has campaigned endlessly on behalf of my research, making it known wherever he could. This book was his idea, and you would not be reading it if he had not kept “bringing me up on the stage” with him as he talked about his Conservatives Without Conscience.

John is too young to be my mentor, a position that was filled many years ago by the distinguished psychologist, M. Brewster Smith. No one would probably have discovered any of my findings on authoritarianism if Brewster had not given a ringing endorsement to my first book many years ago. That endorsement was particularly gratifying because Brewster has been the knowledgeable, critical voice in the field since its beginnings over 50 years ago. And it was Brewster who suggested some years ago that I submit my studies of authoritarian aggression to the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s competition for best research in the behavioral sciences. I sent him a basket of fruit when it won, and now I would like to thank him again, and more publicly. Brewster has won almost all the honors that psychology can bestow, but my appreciation of him is even more heartfelt.

I must honor as well Bruce Hunsberger, who joined me—before his death from leukemia in 2003—in much of the research described in the chapter on religion. Bruce was my best (guy) friend for most of my life. I still miss him, and every now and then when I log on I fantasize that there’ll be a message from Bruce saying that one can do research in the afterlife. “So hurry up.”

Then there is my much maligned wife, Jean. I have created the impression in previous acknowledgments that she has no interest in my research. In truth, she asks about it frequently. She just would never do what you=re on the threshold of doing: read about it. But she is more than my best friend, period, more than “the girl I gave up Lent for” in the Tom Lehrer song, more than my co-adventurer in the Byzantine world of parenting. She is the love of my life. I have no idea why she agreed to marry me after our second date in 1964. But she did, and I am forever grateful for that—as she well knows.

Andrew Perchaluk of the University of Manitoba expertly did the web site and PDF stuff. Andrew has the rare ability to talk to electronic innocents such as I as though we really are sentient beings, and at the same time to know when to say, “Just push this key, and then that one.” Also, if he had not had to work on my computer, he probably would have eventually forgotten all the things that were wrong with Windows 98. He has suffered much and is greatly appreciated.


To our son Sean


In the fall of 2005 I found myself engaged, most unexpectedly, in a heavy exchange of emails with the man who had blown the whistle on Watergate, John Dean. He was writing a book about “conservatives without conscience”—which the late Senator Barry Goldwater was to have co-authored. Dean, Goldwater, and others with solid Republican credentials had been alarmed by the capture of the Grand Old Party by the Religious Right and its seemingly amoral leaders. Dean was plowing through the social science literatures on conservatism and religion to see what perspective academics could offer his analysis, and eventually he ran across my name.

Who am I? I’m a nearly retired psychology professor in Canada who has spent most of his life studying authoritarianism. I got into this field by being lazy. When I took the exams for getting a Ph.D. at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh in 1965, I failed a question about a famous early effort to understand the authoritarian personality. I had to write a paper to prove I could learn at least something about this research, which had gotten itself into a huge hairy mess by then. However, I got caught up in the tangle too. Thus I didn’t start studying authoritarianism because I am a left-winger (I think I’m a moderate on most issues)[1] (if you want to read a note, click on the number) or because I secretly hated my father. I got into it because it presented a long series of puzzles to be solved, and I love a good mystery.

Now, 40 years later, everyone who knows me would rather volunteer for a root canal operation at a school for spastic dental students than ask me a question about authoritarianism. My wife has never read a single page in any of my books. Few of my colleagues in the psychology department at the University of Manitoba have asked about my research since 1973. People I meet at parties, including folks in their 70s, inevitably discover they have to call the baby-sitter about three minutes after casually asking me, “What do you do?” You can’t shut me up once I get going. Yet John Dean was reading everything I had written and pummeling me with insightful questions for months on end. I had died and gone to heaven. And since John’s best-selling book, Conservatives Without Conscience had used my research to help explain how America was going to the devil, he thought I should write an easy-read, non-technical account of what I have found before I do die, and go to heaven or the devil. It will begin appearing on a screen near you soon.

What is Authoritarianism?

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