A few words about authoritarianism

Image: Sergio Geller


The structure of our society has not changed substantially, it continues to be a world driven by a right-wing economic and political perspective


The Brazilian Public Security Forum (FBSP)[I] carried out two surveys, in 2017 and 2022, using part of the Fascism Scale by Theodor Adorno et al. (1950),[ii] in a representative sample of the population, with data collected by Datafolha, to measure authoritarianism.

The items from Scale F which, according to its authors, assess 'conventionalism', 'authoritarian submission', 'authoritarian aggression', were used; they correspond to moral authoritarianism, to sadomasochism. The other items refer to a hostility that is not necessarily moralized, linked to an impulse to dominate those who have a weakly established Self. 

With a scale of 0 to 10 points, surveys by the Brazilian Public Security Forum obtained high average scores for authoritarianism: 8,1 and 7,3 points, respectively. Adherence to conventional values ​​and authoritarian submission decreased, but authoritarian aggression increased, which perhaps expresses the intense anti-democratic aggressiveness that existed in the previous government.

These studies, among others, indicated the maintenance of the precision and validity of the F Scale despite the time that has passed – the 1940s – and the place where it was developed – the United States of America.

Perhaps because its basis is psychoanalysis, in the 1980s, Altemeyer created another scale to measure authoritarianism, replacing the theoretical basis with social learning theory: the Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale (RWA). Its author, however, judged that it was insufficient for measuring 'authoritarian dominance', and tested it in conjunction with the Social Dominance Orientation Scale (SDO). After research, he indicated that RWA measures authoritarianism, and SDO measures an impulse for domination. As these factors were already measured by the F Scale, for this to be overcome, two others were needed to evaluate the same thing as it. So, not everything that is newer is better.

Other researchers,[iii] uncomfortable with assuming that there is only right-wing authoritarianism, they created another scale to evaluate left-wing authoritarianism – Left-wing Authoritarianism. After some studies, they detected that it is not political ideas that generate authoritarian reactions, but the opposite: these ideas are used to satisfy regressed individual desires.

It is always worth remembering that, for Frankfurters, the constitution of the individual is socially mediated; individual authoritarianism reflects the fascism necessary to maintain those who hold economic and political power. In short, they found that authoritarian personalities can relate to any type of ideology, which was already known from the study presented in The Authoritarian Personality, which identified fake conservatives and fake liberals. Therefore, not two, as written before, were needed, but three scales to evaluate what Scale F already measured and to reach similar results.


Certainly, from the 1940s to the present day, much has changed, but if the measurement of the F Scale remains valid and reliable, what should concern us is what generates what this scale measures: perhaps the same social forces from the time in which was elaborated, as it seems that much has remained since then.

In this regard, at least two phrases from Frankfurters are important, both from the end of the 1960s, when it was stated that the 'golden decades' were ending for the emergence of neoliberalism. One of them is in the preface to the second edition of Dialectic of Enlightenment,[iv] by Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, from 1969: “The development that we have diagnosed in this book towards total integration is suspended, but not interrupted; it threatens to be completed through dictatorships and wars” (p.10).

It is up to us to assess whether or not this direction towards total integration is taking place, especially today, with the worldwide strengthening of right-wing radicalism. It is also difficult not to notice the controls over our lives since then, especially with the advancement of identification techniques for all of us.

The other excerpt can be found in “Education after Auschwitz”,[v] of 1967:

“As nowadays the possibility of changing the objective assumptions, that is, the social and political ones that generate such events, that generate such events is extremely limited, attempts to counter the repetition of Auschwitz are necessarily driven towards the subjective side.” (p.121)

22 years after the end of the Second World War, Adorno stated that objective conditions remained the same, not forgetting to mention 'exacerbated nationalism'. Very current, no?

If we are not attentive to the conditions that generated Auschwitz, this will continue to be expressed in wars and peace, as we cannot ignore the fact that even without armed conflicts the existence of a large part of the world's population still suffers a lot, when, given the economic conditions achieved, poverty could now be eradicated.


But let's go back to the results of the levels of Brazilian authoritarianism from research by the Brazilian Public Security Forum. Perhaps they can partially explain the result of the 2017 elections, but what about the 2022 elections?

The former captain's experience as president may have reduced authoritarianism, but not enough, which perhaps explains the approval of regressive agendas by the current Congress, whose members were also elected by the people. Furthermore, it is worth highlighting that as for the presidential election, there was a composition of the so-called conservative and progressive forces against reactionism, we can assume that part of those who elected the current government are authoritarian, which would also explain the difficulties of governing, given the commitments of the campaign and the rigidity of the political clashes.

Finally, it is worth noting that the structure of our society has not changed substantially, it continues to be a world driven by a right-wing economic and political perspective, even with some left-wing or center-left governments; and that the Frankfurtians' prognosis seems to remain the same: the more society develops technically and administratively, the more it can do without individuals, who become more psychically regressed.

*José Leon Crochik He is a retired senior professor at the USP Psychology Institute. Author, among other books, of Critical theory of society and psychology. Some essays (Junqueira and Marin). [https://amzn.to/47xsPud]


[I] Violence and democracy: Brazilian panorama before the 2022 elections [electronic book]: perceptions on fear of violence, authoritarianism and democracy / organization Renato Sérgio de Lima. São Paulo: Brazilian Public Security Forum, 2022. PDF. https://apidspace.universilab.com.br/server/api/core/bitstreams/ddbc5d98-5381-4589-9670-43e912ef4178/content

[ii] Adorno, Theodor W.; Frenkel-Brunswik, Else; Levinson, Daniel J.; Sanford, Nevitt (1950): The Authoritarian Personality, New York, Harper & Brothers.

[iii] Krispenz, A., Bertrams, A. Understanding left-wing authoritarianism: Relations to the dark personality traits, altruism, and social justice commitment. Curr Psychol 43, 2714-2730 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-023-04463-x

[iv] Horkheimer, M., & Adorno, T. W. (1985). Dialectics of Enlightenment.  Trans. by Guido de Almeida. Rio de Janeiro: Jorge Zahar.

[v] Adorno, TW (1995) “Education after Auschwitz”. In: Education and emancipation. Trans. by Wolfgang Leo Maar. Rio de Janeiro: Peace and Land.

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