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Political Psychology 1993

DO AUTHORITARIAN AND CONSERVATIVE ATTITUDES HAVE PERSONALITY AND BEHAVIORAL IMPLICATIONS? COMMENT ON ECKHARDT



J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W.

In Ray (1988b) I commented that a paper by Eckhardt (1988) showed a very dated and inadequate knowledge of the literature and that a more careful perusal of the literature on authoritarianism, conservatism and racism would show that authoritarian and conservative attitudes did not have the personality and behavioral correlates generally attributed to them.

Eckhardt seems to have taken this reproof somewhat to heart and has now offered a regrettably still brief and selective literature review of knowledge in this field (Eckhardt, 1991). While his 27 page article is undeniably substantial, it should be noted that Altemeyer (1981) took half a book to survey the writings in this field and even then comprehensively covered work only up to about 1973. At any event, Eckhardt concludes, among other things, that conservatism has virtually no personality or behavioral correlates and that conservative and authoritarian attitudes are closely allied. As this is in line with what I have long argued, I have no dispute with him there. He could, however, have strengthened his argument by noting the findings (e.g. Titus, 1968; Ray, 1976; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983) that show authoritarian attitudes to have virtually no personality or behavioral correlates either.

Along the way, however, Eckhardt does make some comments on my work that very much require reply: In particular, he notes that I seem to have changed my mind on the relationship between conservatism and racist attitudes, thus tending to portray as some sort of philosophical inconsistency what was in fact a response to new and better data. To set the record straight, what I found was that the correlation between the two variables was very strongly influenced by how you define conservatism. If your scale of conservatism covers issues that a conservative of 40 or 50 years ago would have thought important, conservative and racist attitudes are indeed highly correlated. If, however, your scale discusses issues in a way that a modern-day Rightist (such as Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan) might, there is very little correlation between conservative and racist attitudes (to say nothing of racist behavior -- See Gaertner, 1973). For this and other reasons I conclude that having an old-fashioned orientation is the chief predictor of a person's willingness to express racist attitudes at the present time (Ray, 1988a). Eckhardt does comment that I did not adequately define what I mean by "old-fashioned" and he has a point there. Readers might, however, be interested to know that I have subsequently devoted a rather long paper to remedying that deficit (Ray, 1990).

The inadquacies in Eckhardt's treatment of my work, however, pale nto insignificance compared with the inadequacy of the final conclusions he draws from his review. Despite having noted how attitudes in this field are essentially isolated from personality and behaviour, he goes on to conclude that a non-authoritarian, non-conservative attitude is a "better guide to human relations". As far as I can tell, however, not one paper that he reviews in fact discusses what represents a "better guide to human relations". Eckhardt is, at a minimum, extrapolating from zero data. At a maximum, he is ignoring much of what his review told him: How can something that is essentially unrelated to personality and behavior be a "better guide to human relations"? Any connection is certainly a speculative one.

Even Eckhardt appears to be worried by the boldness of his conjectures here as he does admit that his conclusions could be due to his own personal biases. Such humility, however, while commendable, is surely a poor substitute for the standard of care and attention to detail that one normally expects in a scientific journal article. Non-specialists in Eckhardt's topic might be misled into believing that his conclusions have some scientific credence. It seems important, therefore, to point out that they do not.



REFERENCES


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

Eckhardt, W. (1988) Comments on Ray's "Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review". Political Psychology 9, 680-693.

Eckhardt, W. (1991) Authoritarianism. Political Psychology 12, 97-124

Gaertner, S.L. (1973) Helping behavior and racial discrimination among Liberals and Conservatives. J. Personality & Social Psychology 25, 335-341.

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

Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Authoritarianism, racism and anarchocapitalism: A rejoinder to Eckhardt. Political Psychology 9(4), 693-699.

Ray, J.J. (1990) The old-fashioned personality. Human Relations, 43, 997-1015.

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

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




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