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12 Symptoms of Authoritarian Thinking

Authoritarian thinking is a deep-seated thinking habit with easily identifiable symptoms visible on the surface. It is the fast thinking behind unfreedom – a society giving up on freedom and retreating into a self-destructing spiral. It is an unintended, unwritten, involuntarily developed thinking habit that kicks into action before people even start rational reasoning.

Here are 12 of them. 

  • Fondness for order 
  • Inability or unwillingness to embrace uncertainty
  • Submissiveness to authority
  • Authoritarian aggression toward the underdog (victim blaming)
  • Conformity
  • Need and desire to homogenize society (along race, opinion, faith or customs)
  • Fear of outsiders (xenophobia)
  • Admiration of strength and power
  • Loss of individual perspective and adopting that of the powerful
  • Adopting the group perspective (often also majoritarianism)
  • Impatience with the rule of law (helplessness compensated by enabling a strongman)
  • Conventionalism
  • Political intolerance (e.g., restriction of free speech), moral intolerance (e.g., homophobia, supporting censorship)
  • Punitiveness
  • Hierarchical and status-oriented thinking
  • Favoring group authority and conformity to individual autonomy and diversity
  • Fondness for conspiracy theories and scapegoating as a way of regaining control over complexity
  • Zero-sum thinking

These patterns form a mutually reinforcing vicious cycle. We have written about many of them. A lot.

The catalyst for an authoritarian revival is always an economic or security threat – real or perceived – often in this order. The transmission mechanism that converts an economic or security threat into political unfreedom is authoritarian thinking, triggered by fear combined with the sense of helplessness.

Uninterrupted prosperity and security may allow people to flourish and never to have to face the choice between (the perception of) safety and freedom. But decades of peaceful and uninterrupted prosperity rarely occur. One such era might just be over.

But authoritarian thinking is not a life sentence. Not a personality type, nor a syndrome. It is a mental model, a thinking habit, a way of framing the world that may or may not be deep-seated, but it is definitely not unmovable.

Authoritarian thinking is too broad a phenomenon to be associated with just certain political movements or parties, past or present. It can take many shapes and appear behind a wide range of policies and political behaviors. It is also unlikely that anyone would be completely exempt from engaging in unfree thinking from time to time.

Any other symptom you would add? 

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2 thoughts on “12 Symptoms of Authoritarian Thinking

  1. Pingback: Orbán: From Liberal to Populist in 3 Steps | Meanwhile in Budapest

  2. Pingback: We Have Got Our Priorities Backwards | Meanwhile in Budapest

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