In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Authoritarianism in the Public

  • Introduction
  • Measurement
  • Effects of Authoritarian Personality
  • Debates over Causes of Authoritarianism
  • Authoritarianism and Threat
  • The Question of Authoritarianism on the Left
  • Related Concepts

Political Science Authoritarianism in the Public
Elizabeth Suhay, Brianna Maurer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 11 January 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0236


The study of the “authoritarian personality” began in Europe with the rise of Hitler as an effort to understand why so many seemingly ordinary Germans (and others) were willing to lend their support to an obviously anti-democratic and racist leader. Research on authoritarianism continues in this vein today, although it is now used throughout the world to explain why many people oppose democratic institutions, support authoritarian leaders, and hold prejudiced attitudes. The study of authoritarianism is as popular as it is controversial, with scholars disagreeing over whether it is a personality characteristic or a set of attitudes, how it develops, whether it occurs only on the political right or on the left as well, and how it is best measured, among other debates. Even so, scholars generally agree on the characteristics associated with authoritarianism: those who exhibit authoritarianism tend to be high group identifiers, submissive to in-group authorities, traditional and conforming, and aggressive toward those who either defy accepted norms or are members of outgroups. As has been evident for decades, authoritarianism is closely associated with all manner of highly consequential social and political attitudes, including anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and homophobia, opposition to civil liberties and rights, support for war, and, of course, support for leaders who govern in an authoritarian manner.

History of the Concept

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