Terms + Definitions

What is an authoritarian?

[uh-thawr-i-tair-ee-uh n, uh-thor-]


  1. favoring complete obedience or subjection to authority as opposed to individual freedom.
  1. of or relating to a governmental or political system, principle, or practice in which individual freedom is held as completely subordinate to the power or authority of the state, held as completely subordinate, centered either in one person or a small group that is not constitutionally accountable to the people.
  1. exercising complete or almost complete control over the will of another or of others, an authoritarian parent.

examples of authoritarian followers

  • They are highly ethnocentric, highly inclined to see the world as their in-group versus everyone else. Because they are so committed to their in-group, they are very zealous in its cause. They will trust their leaders no matter what they say, and distrust whomever the leader says to distrust.
  • They are highly fearful of a “dangerous” world. Their parents taught them, more than parents usually do, that the world is dangerous. They may also be genetically predisposed to experience stronger fear than people skilled at ‘keeping their heads while others are losing theirs.’
  • They are highly self-righteous. They believe they are the ‘good people’ and this unlocks a lot of hostile impulses against those they consider “bad”.
  • They are aggressive, though are hesitant to act without permission. Given the chance to attack someone with the approval of an authority, they will lower the boom.
  • They are highly prejudiced against racial and ethnic minorities, non-heterosexuals, and women in general.
  • They will support their authorities, and even help them, persecute almost any identifiable group in the country.
  • Their beliefs are a mass of contradictions. They have highly compartmentalized minds, in which opposite beliefs live independent lives in separate boxes. As a result, their thinking is full of double-standards.
  • They reason poorly. If they like the conclusion of an argument, they don’t pay much attention to whether the evidence is valid or the argument is consistent. They especially have trouble realizing a conclusion is invalid.
  • They are highly dogmatic. Because they have mainly gotten their beliefs from the authorities in their lives, rather than think things out for themselves, they have no real defense when facts or events indicate they are wrong. So they just dig in their heels and refuse to change.
  • They are very dependent on social reinforcement of their beliefs. They think they are right because almost everyone they know and listen to tells them they are. That happens because they screen out sources that will suggest that they are wrong.
  • Because they severely limit their exposure to different people and ideas, they vastly overestimate the extent to which other people agree with them. And thinking they are ‘the moral majority’ supports their attacks on the ‘evil minorities’ they see in the country.
  • They believe strongly in group cohesiveness, and being loyal. They are highly energized when surrounded by a crowd of fellow-believers because it makes them feel powerful and supports their belief that ‘all the good people’ agree with them.
  • They are easily duped by manipulators who pretend to espouse their causes when all the con-artists really want is personal gain.
  • They are largely blind to themselves. They have little self-understanding and insight into why they think and do what they do. They are heavily into denial and completely unaware.

The Authoritarians

Authoritarianism: something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves 

Book by Bob Altemeyer, 2006

International Affairs Magazine, Vol 93, Issue 3

What authoritarianism is … and is not: a practice perspective

Paper by Marlies Glasius, May 2018