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Journal of Personality Assessment, 1990, 54(1 & 2), 419-422.


J.J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia

Authoritarian behavior can be conceived of in various ways. I tend to prefer defining it as dominant, aggressive behavior, with its opposite being submission (Ray,1976). Rigby (1987), on the other hand, seemed to define authoritarian behavior as being submissive behavior, with its opposite being rebellion. Both approaches have their merits, as there is clearly a need for some alternative to the now discredited (Altemeyer, 1981; Ray, 1976; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983; Titus, 1968) theory of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson, and Sanford (1950) to the effect that the authoritarian is both submissive and dominant at the same time.

With German Nazism in mind, one might think that authoritarian behavior, conceived as aggressive dominance, would clearly be most prevalent among supporters of the political Right. Several studies, however, show that this is not so (see the summary in Ray, 1983). Just as there are on the world scene autocratic governments of both the Left and the Right, it is so among people that generally autocratic behaviors can be found among both Leftists and Rightists. Pro-authority attitudes, on the other hand, do appear to be confined to political Rightists (Ray, 1985).

Given that the political correlates of authoritarian behavior as I conceive it are somewhat, unexpected, it also seems of some interest to find the correlates of authoritarian behavior as Rigby defined it. Are people who submit to authority politically polarized in any way? Do rebels tend to be of the Right or the Left? Given the prevalence of Marxism in Leftist thought over the years, this answer seems to be rather foreordained. Rebellion against the status quo is surely the essence of Leftism. On the other hand, General Franco started out as a rebel against the existing Spanish government so there is at least some scope for Rightists to be rebellious.

Any doubts, however, appear to be put at rest by Rigby's (1987) report that Rightists do score much higher on his Authoritarian Behavior Inventory (ABI). Rightists accept authority. Rebels are Leftists.

I wish to submit, however, that this conclusion is fundamentally flawed. Rigby has once again (see Ray, 1984a) fallen into the trap of confounding his dependent and independent variables. His ABI, the soi disant "predictor" of Leftism, in fact contains items that express Leftist sentiments. This is most clear with Item 8, which boldly asks people if they favor Leftism or not, but Items 9 and 14 are also problematical. These two items give respondents the opportunity to describe themselves as being generically "rebels" against society. Because political protest in the form of street demonstrations and the like is the almost-exclusive province of the Left in Australia, these items, too, strongly select for Leftist respondents. Rigby's finding reduces them to saying that one measure of Leftism predicts another measure of Leftism.

It might be protested that only 3 of 22 "contaminated" items is not too bad, but given the weakness of most relationships reported in the psychological literature, it seems possible that all the relationships observed could be contributed by just part of the scale. We cannot assume that there is something non-artifactual there.

It might seem that any doubts could be easily set to rest if Rigby calculated a new ABI score excluding the troublesome items and then correlated this new score with political orientation. A major problem with that procedure, however, is that Items 8 and 9 are two of the highest loading items in the scale -- The scale centers around what they measure. Because they measure Leftism, the whole scale must tend to measure Leftism.

"Aha!" one might say. "There is the evidence you want. All sorts of authoritarian behaviors as indexed by the individual items do show up as being related to items that measure Leftism, so Leftists in general are rebellious." Such a brainstorm would, however, ignore two problems. First, the two Leftist items (8 and 9) may not be good measures of Leftism. Both the Left and the Right in politics are considerably fractionated, and things that may be true of one Leftist may not be true of another. This means that to make general statements about Leftism, we must measure Leftism with an instrument that is itself general and comprehensive in its coverage of Leftist sentiments. One very good example of this is the finding by Weigel and Howes (1985) to the effect that Rightism is strongly related to racism. Such a finding is, of course, nothing new as far as students are concerned, but Weigel and Howes's study was unusual in that their sample was a true general-population sample. Research with such samples in the past has tended to show no relationship between Rightism and racism (see the summary in Ray, 1984b, and the recent comprehensive survey of this proposed relationship in Ray & Lovejoy, 1986). How then did Weigel and Howes produce such a different result? It seems likely that the difference is due solely to the scale of conservatism that they used. The scale was more of a Leftist's caricature of what conservatives believe than a proper and comprehensive survey of contemporary conservative thought. The scale could in fact be seen as measuring "jingoism" (old-fashioned and fanatical patriotism) rather than conservatism. Its relationship with racism is, therefore, explicable but tells us nothing useful about conservatism. General conclusions about Leftism cannot be made from the correlates of a few items that seem to measure it.

The second difficulty in salvaging something useful from Rigby's existing findings is that even the authority-related items may not be a fair selection of such items. Because the Leftist items of Rigby's ABI are so central to it, the possibility must be acknowledged that the process of constructing the scale was one in which only those items that correlate with Leftism were selected. Items expressing Rightist rebellion were either absent from the start or were deleted because they were discordant with the other items. How about including items such as "I have never taken any interest in the writings of Karl Marx" or "I have at times done things to register my protest against Australia's present socialist government" or "If Australia fell into the hands of a Communist government, I would take up arms against them" and so on? No such items appear at present.

Clearly, much more work needs to be done before the issues raised by Rigby can properly be explored.


{Articles below by J.J. Ray can generally be accessed simply by clicking on the name of the article. I am however also gradually putting online a lot of abstracts, extracts and summaries from older articles by other authors so if an article not highlighted below seems of particular interest, clicking here or here might just save you a trip to the library}

Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., & Sanford, R. N. (1950). The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper.

Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Ray, J.J. (1976) Do authoritarians hold authoritarian attitudes? Human Relations, 29, 307-325.

Ray, J.J. (1983). Half of all authoritarians are Left-wing: A reply to Eysenck and Stone. Political Psychology, 4, 139-144.

Ray, J.J. (1984). Cognitive styles and authoritarianism: A comment on Rigby & Rump. Journal of Social Psychology, 122, 283-284.

Ray, J.J. (1984). Half of all racists are Left-wing. Political Psychology, 5, 227-236.

Ray, J.J. (1985). The psychopathology of the political Left. High School Journal, 68, 415-423.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1983). The behavioral validity of some recent measures of authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology, 120, 91-99.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1986). The generality of racial prejudice. Journal of Social Psychology, 126, 563-564.

Rigby, K. (1987). An authority behavior inventory. Journal of Personality Assessment, 51, 615-625.

Titus, H. E. (1968). F scale validity considered against peer nomination criteria. Psychological Record, 18, 395-403.

Weigel, R.H., & Howes, P. W. (I985). Conceptions of racial prejudice: Symbolic racism reconsidered. Journal of Social Issues, 41(3), 117-138.

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