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The Australian Quarterly Volume 43, No. 2, June 1971, Pp. 89-97.


By John J. Ray*


The account of ethnocentrism given by Adorno et al. has little evidential support. People with Rightist attitudes are not especially sick psychologically or oppressive behaviourally. Anti-Apartheid protestors resemble in their own behaviour the very people they condemn. One must conclude that there is no necessary relationship between attitudes and behaviour. Ethnocentric official ideology regarding other races is congruent with actual behaviour in the case of South Africa but egalitarian official ideology can also give rise to racial oppression -- as in the case of Soviet Russia and the Jews. Avowedly tolerant attitudes combined with intolerant behaviour seem characteristic of much of the modern Left and pose an in principle greater danger to our society than does overt Fascism.

With the scaling down of Western involvement in Vietnam there seems to have been a minor revival of interest on the part of local radical groups in various sorts of racial discrimination (Aborigines, South Africa, Soviet Jewry). The social scientist's value-neutral term for racial prejudice is "ethnocentrism". This term avoids judgment on whether the "prejudice" (a pejorative- term) is justified or not. It simply says a person places an especially high value on his own ethnic origin and culture in relation to others. Thus a Jew who would not let his daughter marry a "Goy' (gentile) would be said to be ethnocentric where it might seem slightly odd to call him racially prejudiced.

It is of course true that ethnocentrism is widely condemned among educated people. In this article it is desired to ask how justified this is. To answer this we shall have to look at theories about the origins of ethnocentrism.

The by now classic account of the origins of ethnocentrism has been given by Adorno et al. (1950). These authors identify ethnocentrism as part of a larger "sickness" (sic) which they call authoritarianism and identify it as a phenomenon of the ideological Right. Their study was in fact basically of extreme Right-wing ideology. The generalization of their condemnatory results to all right-wing ideology was an easy step and one widely accepted (see as a recent example Eckhardt and Newcombe, 1969). The evidential grounds for the findings of Adorno et al. were, however, widely challenged (see the collection of critique in Christie and Jahoda, 1954). One of the central criticisms was that the psychologically disturbed people they interviewed and described could not be shown to be typical of either right-wing people or of ethnocentric people. Moreover, evidence from other psychological studies completely contradicting their account of right-wing ideology as accompanied by personality pathology is now to hand (Eysenck, 1954; Schmuck and Chesler, 1967; Wolfinger, 1965; Schoenberger, 1968; Elms, 1970; Ray, 1971).

If, then, conservatives cannot be shown to be psychologically sick, might it mean that the ethnically prejudiced are not sick either? The answer largely depends on the closeness of the association between ethnic prejudice and conservatism. At least in studies with students as subjects, one does generally find that there is an association between the two. Conservatives do tend to be ethnocentric in attitudes. Even a correlation of .5, however, means that only 25 per cent of the variance is held in common. Therefore it is quite possible for ethnocentrics to be characterized by personality pathology white conservatives are not. Eckhardt (1968) has recently presented evidence, however, which leads to the view that ethnocentrism is in fact not pathological. It is the outcome of a set of cognitive beliefs which could be called a "mythology". An unpublished study by the present author also reveals no association (among 262 university students) between ethnocentrism and neuroticism. Certainly ethnocentrism may be a feature of some types of personality pathology, but to find a person ethnocentric does not allow us to conclude that he is sick. In fact certain types of double-think the public has witnessed in recent times might tempt us to conclude that it is the anti-ethnocentric who is sick. Recently in Australia, anti-apartheid demonstrators saw fit to "raid" Kooyong tennis courts in Melbourne before South African players were due to appear, and to gouge holes in the grass and smear paint and turpentine over the centre courts (1). It seems hard to distinguish this from the members of the Sturm Abteilung, who in the early 1930s smashed windows of Jewish shops. Both groups believed the righteousness of their cause excused the authoritarianism and violence. ( The Nazi's avowed concern was to revenge the honest German citizen who was being "manipulated and exploited by the scheming Jew".) It is all the more incongruous that the same anti-apartheid dernonstrators tuned up next morning bearing placards condemning "Fascism" (2).

The thinking of these demonstrators apparently is: Coercion by South Africans is bad; coercion by us is good. Taken in conjunction with their generally moralistic and presumably pacifistic outlook. this would seem to imply a degree of compartmentalized thinking which clearly an almost neurotic disorder. It might be noted that the targets of the coercion in each case are themselves innocent or unwitting in offence -- the black offends because of his skin colour and the white tennis player offends because of her having been born in South Africa. Neither the ethnocentric nor the anti-ethnocentric seems psychologically capable of considering others as individuals.

At the same time as the above events were going on, the 1971 conference of British Commonwealth Prime Ministers had just finished in Singapore. At this Britain had been strongly attacked black African States for its inferred intention to sell maritime arms to South Africa. The incongruity in this was that several of the black African States themselves have harshly oppressive official domestic racial policies. This contrasts with an official British domestic policy of notable opposition to racialism. Improbable though it might seem then, we have the phenomenon of racialist countries attacking an anti-racialist country in the cause of racial equality. Perhaps the cartoonist in The Australian newspaper (3) summed it up most aptly by a sketch showing a black African leader declaiming: "The African States will strike a powerful blow against racialism by exporting all Indian residents to Britain!".

From the foregoing it is obvious that a very clear distinction is needed between ethnocentric attitudes and ethnocentric behaviour. It may indeed be the case that people of right-wing beliefs are more ready to acknowledge ethnocentric beliefs but it does not at all follow from this that they are more likely than radicals to engage in ethnocentric behaviour. To refer again to the current political scene, the antisemitism programme in Communist Poland seems to be held up only by a lack of Jews -- most of them having perished under Hitler. At the time of writing, the anti-semitic policies of the Soviet Union are also a subject of worldwide protest. So much for the negative relationship between avowed egalitarianism and ethnocentric practices.

Thus although intellectuals and the highly educated tend to be characterized by anti-ethnocentric attitudes with a consistency that one of their number is moved to characterize as "boring" (4), it does not follow that their actual behaviour would characteristically be any less fascist. Ellis (1970) in fact identified a variant of fascist behaviour to which intellectuals are particularly prone. He believes that others should be accepted simply because they are people. The intellectual who fails fully to accept other people of lesser abilities or intelligence is just as offensive as the Nazi who fails to accept others because of their race.

The present author is not quite as keen as Ellis is to condemn such intellectuals as "fascists" but he does believe that a charge of "bigotry" could be made to stick. As a practicing sociologist he is constantly dismayed by the readiness with which both colleagues and senior students reject such things as "Attitude-Scaling'' or "Behaviourism" (the names of important enterprises from the adjacent discipline of psychology) and then cheerfully admit that they know little or nothing of the rationale and practice of either. And yet it is equally certain that the same people would believe themselves to be paragons of open-mindedness and would condemn bigotry in round terms.

The charge of bigotry is of course a lesser charge than the charge of fascism. The bigot condemns on inadequate grounds what he doesn't like. The Fascist actually attacks it. The student activists who have made "smash Apartheid" their slogan would seem to be good candidates for Fascists. Presumably they have very little information about the sociological and psychological causes of apartheid, and yet they do their best to bring about the goal of smashing it. The fact that a nation of three million ordinary people with genetic and cultural backgrounds closely similar to our own support Apartheid appears to provoke no thought in these adolescent radicals at all. John Vorster or Hendrik Verwoerd may perhaps pass muster as bogeymen, but can we say the same of a whole nation of ordinary people? It is highly arguable that outside attacks on apartheid simply drive the South Africans more into a corner and make them more defensive and oppressive towards the Bantu. How many needless Bantu deaths will be caused by the overseas anti-apartheid movement? A more psychologically intelligent policy for people concerned at the plight of the Bantu might in fact be to allay the fears of the white South African minority by international guarantees for their present and future personal and institutional security. It is argued then that apartheid is an admittedly fumbling attempt to secure this end by domestic policy. This proposal is of course not one that the student radicals might be expected to embrace warmly. Its less dramatic character does not perform for them the task of giving meaning and direction to their lives nearly as well as their present simplistic activities do.

After our second excursion into a consideration of anti-ethnocentrism, let us return to the consideration of ethnocentrism as a psychological disposition.

La Piere (1934) and Titus (1968) have found evidence of what was mentioned earlier as an attitude-behaviour discrepancy. La Piere sent a questionnaire to restaurateurs asking whether they would serve "a person of Chinese or Asian race". When the experimenter actually took an Asian to the restaurants concerned, over 90 per cent of the restaurateurs who said they would not serve an Asian did in fact serve him.

What Titus, the other researcher mentioned, found was that people who agreed with a whole set of statements expressing authoritarian attitudes were not in fact seen by their peers as characteristically behaving in an authoritarian way. Some people with authoritarian attitudes did behave in an authoritarian way but an equally large number of people with authoritarian attitudes did not so behave.

"But what about the White Australia Policy?" someone will say: "Surely attitudes and behaviour go together closely enough there"! To answer this several points need to be made: What has been shown is that a person of ethnocentric attitudes will not necessarily behave in an aggressive or humiliating way towards another person of a different race (La Piere, 1934). Refusing an Asian person service in a restaurant is a clear enough instance of such ethnocentric behaviour, but the same cannot a priori be said of the White Australia Policy. It may be the case that the "greatest happiness of the greatest number" can best be served as part of a policy that includes White Australia. If the ethnocentric person is shown not to be necessarily characterized by racialist interpersonal behaviour and is also shown to be mentally and emotionally healthy (see also below), we must at least acknowledge that his opinion to the above effect is worthy of consideration, and if in a democratic country that opinion is a majority view that it should be implemented.

This is, of course, not remotely to assert that all examples of public racialist policy are seriously thought by their proponents to be justified in terms of the greatest good to the greatest number. The policies of South Africa are obviously justified by the greatest good of white South Africans. The point is not to deny that official ideology and public actions go together in this case, but rather to note that this is only one sub-set of all the examples of oppressive public actions towards minorities or politically weaker racial groups. In other instances we have the same severe repression of minorities combined with official policy and beliefs of an emphatically egalitarian nature (e.g., The Soviet Union).

Having satisfied ourselves of the independence between ethnocentric behaviour and attitudes, we may be moved to ask "what, then, of ethnocentric behaviour? If ethnocentric attitudes are shown not to be psychopathological, are we sure about ethnocentric behaviour?" This is harder to answer. In the absence of correlational evidence it does seem possible that ethnocentric behaviour might be correlated with personality disturbance. Again, however, we must beware of generalizing this belief to public policy. If ethnocentric inter-personal behaviour is a sign of emotional disturbance, it does not follow that the men proposing and supporting the White Australia Policy were or are sick. Was in fact this policy proposed as a product of paranoid ranting or the personal insecurity of some group? The vague fulminations of writers like Bedford (1970) notwithstanding, the documents from that time would seem to indicate that such fears as were expressed around the time of Federation were certainly of a very calmly reasoned sort. Note the following editorial from a N.S.W. newspaper, The Maitland Daily Mercury, 2 January, 1899 (5) (quoted in full) :

A warrant for legislation which undoubtedly in one aspect appears churlish and unchristian is supplied by contemplation of the troubles endured and anticipated in the United States in the presence of a large coloured population. The curse of slavery has indeed, it would seem, come home to roost. Viewing what is happening in the United States, in South Africa and to some extent in Canada, our legislators are justified in maintaining as far as possible the homogeneity of the Australian community as to nationality.

And especially does the position of the Great Republic convey a warning against the admission of coloured peoples except under the strictest regulation. The negroes in the States were, it will be remembered, emancipated by the proclamation of President Lincoln. Subsequent amendments of the Federal Constitution -- that constitution so much more difficult to alter than is the draft Federal Constitution of Australia, which is cast iron in the phrase of its foes -- admitted them to the full rights of citizenship. Constitution makers, however, propose: Public opinion disposes. In some Southern States, where the negroes now constitute a majority of the population, they are denied their legal political rights. Gaining power after the war, they established corrupt governments, and in the reaction against them by the white minority, they were reduced to political subjection by fraud and violence in the first instance, and more recently by new State constitutional restrictions. Other States have not got so far as the constitutional restriction, and violence is still the medium by which a privilege granted by the Federal constitution is withheld from the negro. And the end must be that the equality with whites so conferred will be nullified by State Laws. The condition is really one of civil war, and it is the more aggravated and dangerous that it is a race war of the bitterest kind. On the one side is the contempt which the average white man conceives for dark skinned folk, augmented by a disdain that has never died with which people are regarded whose forefathers were slaves in the land. And on the other side is a vast, largely ignorant, somewhat aspiring coloured population valuing their enfranchisement and disinclined to submit calmly to its withdrawal. As we have said. consideration of the difficulty with which the Government of the Republic is confronted by the negro problem warrants us in carefully selecting, even though the process may seem harsh, the elements of our population.

We must avoid then a simplistic view of the world which lumps everyone who disagrees with us (particularly in politics) as "baddies" and everyone who shares our views as "goodies". Too often one hears everything brutal and oppressive vacuously labelled "fascist" - something that we (self-righteously) would never be. Perhaps the fact that they lost the war puts the Fascist nations in a poor position to suppress accounts of their brutal behaviour. This should not delude us into thinking that brutal behaviour was characteristic of them alone. One man on the allied side who, through extensive travel, did have the opportunity of seeing what actually went on in the second world war was Charles Lindbergh. His accounts of actual behaviour from servicemen of the "egalitarian" societies of Australia and the U.S.A. are worth reflecting on (6):

Australians pushing out Japanese prisoners from transport planes over the New Guinea mountains ... Americans poking through the mouths of Japanese corpses for gold-filled teeth .... Jap's heads buried in anthills to get them clean for souvenirs ..... shin-bones shaped for letter-openers and pen trays .... Japanese prisoners machine-gunned on a Hollandia strip"

It is also a commonplace that the customary source of riots and public violence in our society is the extreme Left rather than the extreme Right. At the height of the political confrontation in the U.S.A. over Vietnam, front-page reports like the following were to be seen regularly in the newspapers (7):

"Thousands of roaming anti-war demonstrators fought running battles with police in New York last night after having been thwarted in an attempt to picket the Secretary of State (Mr. Dean Rusk).

"Police made 38 arrests as the demonstrators surged through Times Square to Grand Central Station and attempted to march on the United Nations building. Two thousand police sealed off the Hilton Hotel -- creating an oasis of calm -- where Mr. Rusk chastised his war critics in an address to the Foreign Policy Association. Outside, the demonstrators disrupted traffic, stoned police, yelled imprecations and waved peace placards. Several police and about a dozen demonstrators were injured in clashes. Yelling crowds of youths, waving fists and carrying placards, surged up the broad Avenue of the Americas leading to the Hilton Hotel two hours before Mr. Rusk was due.

The demonstrators hurled plastic 'bombs' of red paint at police, emptied dustbins, blocked traffic and terrified theatre and dinner-going crowds."

It is customary to explain the left-wing origin of public aggression and violence by saying: "But if they were not in power, it would be the Right who would demonstrate". The truth, of course, is that neither the Left nor the extreme Right is in power. Difficult though it may be for those of genuine Left-wing views to believe, the extreme Right is just as prone to see the President as a "Leftie" as the Left is to seeing him as a "Fascist" (see for example, Elms, 1970).

In fact the partial success of the anti-Vietnam movement in having the U.S. Government officially adopt their policy seems to have made these same radicals not less prone to public violence and displays of aggression but more prone to these. A quotation somewhat later in date than the one given above may serve to illustrate this (8):

"Demonstrators shouting protests against the military thrust into Laos burnt a Government car and beat up a policeman near the University of California in Berkeley yesterday.
"The police fought back with tear gas.
"In other incidents the 16-year-old son of a professor was shot in the thigh at Stanford University, an American flag was burnt at the Boston post office and 3,000 peace advocates clogged New York's Times Square during the rush hour.
In Washington, 400 youths and girls marched on the While House shouting: 'Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh', and 'One, two, three, four, we don't want your ---- war".
In scattered cities across the U.S. arrests were made in outbreaks of violence and vandalism.
This first round of demonstrations against broadening the Indo-China war did not match the intensity of the protests after the American forces moved into Cambodia almost a year ago.
A thousand demonstrators armed with rocks and bamboo sticks and holding aloft Vietcong and Pathet Lao flags, marched for several hours on the University of California campus and nearby Berkeley streets.
They were headed off when they tried to enter down-town Berkeley, scene of costly rioting in previous demonstrations.
The Washington demonstration was peaceful at the start, but when police moved in, a few stones were thrown.
Some protestors ran through neighbouring streets, shouting and breaking windows."

"Pacifism" is certainly no name for this behaviour -- however appropriate it may be as a name for attitudes of the people concerned.

The real reason, then, why the Right does not demonstrate while the Left does, would seem to Iie in the greater respectability of the attitudes or avowed goals of the Left. If the second word war had been less of a fiasco for the Fascist nations, extreme right-wing views might have remained respectable. That it is not so is thus due at least in part to the contingent facts of recent history. Without this supervening public awareness, we might expect both the right and left wings to engage in public behaviour of an intimidatory kind -- as was indeed the case in pre-war Germany and as is the ease in the under-developed world of today -- particularly in Latin America.

To summarize, it is felt that we may assert that right-wing and ethnocentric attitudes are not necessarily pathological or sick, and that anti-ethnocentric, anti-fascist attitudes are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for anti-fascist, unprejudiced behaviour.

In value terms, this does not represent a claim that the person of ethnocentric and right-wing ideology is virtuous. It does, however, represent a claim that he is not less virtuous than the person of unprejudiced and radical ideology. l take it that virtue is to be assessed by deeds, not words. At the outside there might perhaps be a claim for greater virtue on the part of the person of ethnocentric views. The sub-set of conservatives and ethnocentrics who behave in an aggressive way are at least the only group to openly acknowledge this. Unlike the aggressive radical, they cannot be accused of hypocrisy and at least from the behaviour regulation point of view an overt offence seems more manageable and hence less dangerous than a covert one.

If we were to carry this to its logical extreme, we would have to say that we must prefer the Nazi to the Communist -- not because the Nazis were less totalitarian (though this does seem to be true -- see Unger, 1965), but because one openly justifies his use of oppression, coercion and violence while the other hides his deeds under a possibly sincere camouflage of humanitarian intentions. This point can perhaps better be seen with the aid of a more distant historical example -- the Spanish Inquisition. This evil could scarcely have been perpetuated if many there involved had not believed its proceedings to be efficacious in the benevolent end of saving men's immortal souls. Humane intentions can lead to most inhumane actions and the very humaneness of the intentions constitutes the most difficult possible obstacle to abolition of the practice.



1. "Sunday Mirror", p. 10, 24 Jan., 1971, Sydney, N S.W.

2. "Sun-Herald", pp. 1 and 3, 24 Jan , 1971.

3. 23 Jan. 1971

4. Phillip Adams, "Muggers Minority of One", "The Australian", p. 23, 23 Jan., 1971, Sydney, N.S W.

5. It was thought that a quote from a country newspaper might come closer to representing the sentiments of the people of the time, than would the possibly insincere peroration of a politician.

6. From "The wartime journals of Charles A. Lindbergh". N.Y.: Tudor, 1970

7. An A.A.P. report carried on the front page of the Brisbane "Courier Mail" under the headline "Running Battles With Police Grip New York" on 16 Nov., 1967,

8. Quotation taken from a p. 4 report in the "Sydney Morning Herald" of 12 Feb., 1971.


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CHRISTIE, R., & JAHODA, MARIE, Studies in the scope and method of "The Authoritarian Personality". N.Y.: Free Press, 1954.

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TITUS, H. E. F scale validity considered against peer-nomination criteria, "Psych. Record", 1968, 18, 395-403.

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WOLFINGER, R., et al. America's radical Right: Politics and ideology. In: Apter, D. (ed.), "Ideology and discontent". N.Y.: 1965.

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