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High School Journal 1985, 68 (4), 415-423.

THE PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF THE POLITICAL LEFT



John J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia

The Authoritarian Personality by Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford (1950) was widely welcomed as demonstrating the existence of a type of psychopathology peculiar to the political Right. These "California" authors, in fact, were quite explicit in referring to the syndrome they had "discovered" as being a "disease". Since there can be little doubt that most psychologists have at least some Leftish sympathies, this set of proposals about "authoritarianism" became and remains very popular. The weight of criticisms that have been levelled at the California work would surely have long ago equated "authoritarianism" with "phlogiston" if the social sciences were in fact truly scientific but ideology and intellectual fashions still seem to have an influence among us that makes mere evidence often seem surprisingly irrelevant (Christie & Jahoda, 1954; Titus & Hollander, 1957; Titus,1968; McKinney,1973; Ray,1976; Altemeyer, 1981).

One of the more distressing consequences of the characteristic ideological polarization among social scientists is that the entire discipline seems to have suffered an almost total inability to see that there are many psychopathological syndromes on the Left too. Even quite recent work has, for instance, contained the assertion that such a thing as Left-wing authoritarianism just cannot be found (Stone, 1981/82; Altemeyer, 1981). It was long ago pointed out that on the world political scene authoritarianism seems to be at least as common among Leftist governments as it is among Rightist governments (Christie & Jahoda, 1954) but, try as they might, psychologists have so far seemed quite unable to find any psychological syndrome that corresponds to this undoubted political reality. It is easy to find psychological characteristics that explain Rightist authoritarianism but Leftist authoritarianism seems to be some part sort of mystery that somehow should not be there at all.

From my point of view as an anarchist, all governments are basically Fascist and in my sixteen years of research into authoritarianism I have never had the slightest difficulty in finding authoritarianism on both the political Left and the political Right so it may be that I am one of the few who can do something to help rectify the strange selective blindness that seems to have characterized psychology since the Second World War. If in this paper, I concentrate on the Left, therefore, please do not think that I am thereby in any way trying to excuse the Right. I am simply trying to restore a balance. The Right has already had a bad press for 30 years or more so I feel that their sins are already well-known (or, at least, well-accepted).

Why has the search for psychological authoritarianism on the Left proved so difficult? Perhaps the most obvious reason is that authoritarianism has usually been defined in ways that make it virtually synonymous with conservatism. The "new anthropological type" that Adorno et al. (1950) purported to have discovered was no new type at all. He was just the old, familiar, conservative. For a Marxist intellectual, Adorno seems to have known surprisingly little about traditional political conservatism. Respect for the established authorities and the various other elements of the F scale have always been core themes of conservative thought. Conservatives have always been disapproving of sexual irregularities and mistrustful of the good intentions of others. That is what makes them conservatives. To use such attributes as indicators of totalitarian predilections was virtually to preclude Leftists from being shown as having totalitarian leanings (Ray, 1973a).

This point, is, of course fairly well-known by now and Rokeach (1960) made a valiant effort to measure authoritarianism in a way that did not inextricably confound it with conservatism. As is now also quite evident, however, even Rokeach's 'D' scale does show a sometimes quite strong tendency to correlate positively with conservatism of ideology (Hanson, 1970; Ray, 1970). This is one of the reasons why the inevitability of at least some association between conservatism and authoritarianism seems to have become generally accepted.

Assuming the validity of the F scale

Let us therefore for the sake of the argument assume for a moment that the F and D scales are valid as measures of what they purport to measure. Let us assume that they do measure a psychopathological type of authoritarian personality. I will submit that even given this unlikely (if popular) assumption we can still find authoritarianism and psychopathology on the political Left.

There is no doubt that scales of conservatism usually correlate highly with even balanced forms of the F and D scales (Ray, 1973b). Leftists get low scores. This means that even extreme Leftists virtually never have anything to say in favour of authority and toughness. Yet what could be more authoritarian than a Communist government?

Even Nikita Khrushchev acknowledged that Stalin killed far more people than Hitler and Communist governments have the unnerving characteristic that they never fall. Fascist governments always seem to revert to democracy after a time but no Communist nation has ever done so to my knowledge. So what we have on the part of the extreme Left is a complete opposition between attitude and behavior. The claimed attitudes are kindly but the governments they create are almost terminally brutal. I cannot accept that this authoritarianism of Communist governments is in some sense accidental or aberrant. To my knowledge, all Communist governments at all times and in all places develop much the same characteristics as far as authoritarianism is concerned. They are arguably the most thoroughgoing tyrannies the modern world has. It seems to me, then, that this complete break between ideology and practice is the most striking evidence of Leftist psychopathology that we could possibly have. If we do as the law courts do and infer people's real motives from their behaviour, we have to say that extreme Leftists are people with the most brutal and tyrannical real motives which they are totally incapable of acknowledging even to themselves. Their total success at denial of unsavoury motives would surely in Freudian terms be psychopathology of the most serious and tragic sort. Whether we call it hypocrisy, self-deception or Freudian denial really matters very little. It is clear that the difficulty which all psychologists have undoubtedly had in demonstrating authoritarian sentiments among Leftists is itself the most powerful evidence of Leftist psychopathology. To be an extreme Leftist is to be totally unable to acknowledge one's own real motives. Extreme Leftists are people who hide the most dismal motivations behind the cloak of good intentions.

There are, of course, some occasions when extreme Leftists are able to acknowledge to some extent the real bitterness, anger, destructiveness and envy of their motivations. When they are talking about "the bosses," "The establishment," "multinationals" or "Fascists" the venom is quite evident. The trouble, however, is that this anger is not merely situational. It is a chronic hostility. When the revolution succeeds and the bogeymen have all been banished, the anger does not go away. The society that the revolutionaries set up is just the sort of society that bitter, angry, destructive and avaricious people would be expected to set up. Anyone who threatens their aim of becoming a new ruling class is pitilessly destroyed.

Ideology, then, is such a poor guide to action that anyone interested in politics might well decide that there is no point in even taking an interest in ideology. It could, however, be argued that perhaps ideology is a better guide to action in democratic societies such as Britain and the U.S.A. But is this so? There can surely be little doubt that Winston Churchill was a Right-wing conservative. His reverence for the established authorities and ways of doing things can scarcely be in doubt. Should he not therefore have found a congenial ally in Adolf Hitler? As we all know, it was in fact the Conservative Churchill who led the opposition to Hitler. The Leftist Joseph Stalin was quite happy to co-operate with Hitler -- as the Poles remember to this day. Political alliances seem to have little to do with similarity of ideologies.

This is even true within our present-day societies. If we regard party allegiance rather than ideology as the key thing of interest in politics, then it is possible to find authoritarianism on the Left no matter what definition of authoritarianism we use. Hanson (1975) has summarized the research which uses the F scale as a predictor of candidate or political party preference. It is surprising how often the F scale fails to yield any significant prediction at all. What this means is that high F scale scorers are equally likely to choose such diverse figures as George McGovern and Richard Nixon! Many McGovern supporters were highly authoritarian in even the F scale sense! If McGovern was a Left-wing candidate (and I can think of no other recent American Presidential candidate who better deserves the epithet), then half of all authoritarians were, by their vote, Left-wing.

No matter how firmly one decides that ideology is politically irrelevant, such results do seem a little strange. One begins to ask questions about methodology. Most of the research was done on students and the F scale has well-known problems of ambiguity, openness to acquiescent response set etc. Some time ago, therefore, I also attempted a more rigorous replication of this lack of relationship. I applied a balanced F scale and a balanced D scale to a random sample of the population of the Australian city of Sydney. Sydney has about three million people of mainly British descent and is Australia's largest city. There were 118 respondents in the sample and they also received various conservatism scales. The positive and negative halves of the F and D scales correlated respectively .56 and .27 in the expected direction but neither scale predicted political party choice. As the Left of Australian politics is represented by an avowedly Socialist party, there can be no doubt that there were real Leftists in the sample and that they were just as likely to be high scorers on the F and D scales as they were to be low scorers. Again there was no shortage of Leftist authoritarians if it is political behaviour (in the sense of vote) that we look at. As far as political ideology was concerned, however, all the more expected relationships were observed: Both the F and D scales correlated significantly with separate scales measuring political, social and moral conservatism (Ray, 1973b). Even old-fashioned conservatives can and often do vote for Leftist political parties.

The theorist who is best known for pointing this out is, of course, Lipset (1960). His claim is that working class people tend to be conservative and authoritarian but that they vote for radical parties out of economic self-interest. The high F scorers who voted for George McGovern or the Australian Labor Party ought, then, on this analysis, to have been working class people who were hoping for a handout. In a recent study specifically aimed at testing Lipset's theory (Ray, 19846) I also found that high scorers on Wilson's Conservatism scale were particularly likely to favour the Australian Labor Party.

So far, then, I have shown two types of psychopathology on the political Left. Ideological Leftists are unable to acknowledge their authoritarian motives and ordinary Leftists voters are quite likely to be high scorers on the F scale.

My third proof of Leftist psychopathology also involves the F scale. In my salad days as an authoritarianism researcher, I thought of the idea of balancing the F scale by adding to it a whole group of statements of the sort that were being shouted at the time by anti-Vietnam protestors and which were being taught by Leftist intellectuals. I therefore gathered together a very humanist set of statements such as: "All men are equal," "Human life is sacred," "Human beings are more important than efficiency," "Individual freedom is a basic human right," "Dictatorships are totally wrong" etc. I do not think anyone could doubt that these sound a pretty Leftish set of statements. There were even statements like "Patriotism is just a glorified name for national selfishness" and "The government should do more to help the disabled." As it happened, however, the scale formed by these statements did not correlate negatively with the F and D scales (see Ray, 1972a). They correlated positively. People who thought that "all men are equal" and that "human beings are more important than efficiency" were Fascists, not anti-Fascists. If this should seem at first highly surprising, let us not forget that Hitler was a socialist and that, in English, the name of his political party was "The National Socialist German Workers party." Nonetheless, I am sure that we all would agree that such a collocation of sentiments would not be found among the students samples that we usually study. On what sample, then, was this alarming combination of sentiments found? On a sample of Australian Army conscripts during their first week in camp. In the Army, idealism and tough mindedness go together. Among healthy young men in a military setting, socialism has an iron fist. While this finding may go a long way towards explaining how communists so often resort to violence and aggression ("armed struggle") in pursuing their apparently humane objectives, some questions do nonetheless remain. In particular, we may be inclined to ask whether the finding was not some sort of accidental result caused by poor research methods. Can such a finding be repeated?

In fact, the research methods used were thoroughly standard. The research was just like any other done with the F scale. But is that sufficient? Has not the F scale been much attacked due to its one-way-wording. Could not the result be an acquiescence artifact? This possibility had to be taken seriously. If both sets of items were measuring acquiescence only, the result would be explained as artifactual. When checks for this were applied, however (Ray, 1974a) it was found that acquiescence did not explain the result. We are left, then, with the original interpretation.

But can the result be repeated? In particular, can it be repeated on a general population sample? Do the Army conscripts represent the community as a whole? To answer this, a new study was recently carried out. In this study the same set of apparently humanist items was administered to a random sample of the population of the Australian city of Sydney together with a balanced version of the F scale. This time the humanist items were orthogonal to the F scale (Ray, 1984e). Note what this means. It means that some people in the community did respond as we would expect our students to respond. They agreed with the humanist items and rejected the Fascist items. The other half of the community, however, responded as the conscripts did: They agreed with both the Fascist and the humanist items. It has been confirmed, therefore that in large parts of the community Fascist and humanist sentiments can be found together. Violent socialists like Hitler and Stalin can be found even in an Anglo-Saxon democracy.

Assuming that the F scale is not valid

As I think I have now demonstrated that an assumption of F scale validity leads to three clear proofs of psychopathology or authoritarianism on the political Left, I am sure that we will all now feel more friendly towards the extensive evidence leading to the view that the F scale is of dubious validity as a predictor of authoritarian behavior. I will not go into that evidence here as I have already summarized it extensively elsewhere (Ray, 1976, Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). Rejecting the F scale, however, does not get Leftists out of the woods. Let us look at some alternative measures of authoritarianism.

One of the things that often strikes me about many items from both the F and D scales is that they tend to sound rather old-fashioned or even ignorant. They seem to represent a sort of Wisdom of Yesteryear (Hartmann, 1977). Perhaps the best evidence of this is a little-remarked paper by Pflaum (1964). It is one of the few papers in modern psychology that quotes research from the pre-war era. What the author did was to set out to construct a parallel form of the F scale. He appears to have done so very successfully simply by drawing on collections of superstitions and misconceptions current among college students in the 20s and 30s.

Over a decade ago, therefore, I tried to write a scale that would both be couched in a fairly modern terms and would concentrate on authoritarianism alone without at the same time dragging in whole slabs of conservative ideology. I called what I produced the "A" scale (Ray, 1972b). It was a balanced scale but it had items glorifying the army, Mussolini, punctuality, discipline, military preparedness, obedience and war. It showed very persuasive validity characteristics as a measure of authoritarianism and even strongly predicted some types of authoritarian behaviour - which is more than the F scale can do (Titus, 1968; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). Yet this scale also showed extremely high correlations with various measures of conservative ideology. Only conservatives could find anything to agree with its pro-authority items. From its validity characteristics, I might just as well have called it a conservatism scale. So once again we find that, even when carefully defined, authoritarianism of ideology is conservative. Quite recently, two other authors (Rigby & Rump, 1979) have repeated the same type of experiment. They set out to write a totally straightforward attitude to authority scale covering a range of attitudes towards different sorts of authority but nothing else. They too found that their resultant scale correlated highly with conservatism. Even when we move outside the F scale, then, we find that it is only conservatives who have a good word for authority. Leftists may practice authoritarianism when in power but they will never openly advocate it.

Let us now move from the "A" scale to another measure of authoritarianism -- the "Directiveness" scale. Like the F scale, the "A" scale is an attitude scale. Using attitude scales to index personality is, however, a rather indirect approach. What about using a conventional behavior inventory? That is what the Directiveness scale is. It is a conventional behavior inventory that was intended to measure Nazi-type personalities - i.e. people prone to behave in a domineering, aggressive and destructive way towards others. It measures interpersonal authoritarianism rather than some abstract notion of how society should be run. It asks whether you personally behave in an authoritarian way or not, regardless of what you might think is good for society as a whole. It has been extensively validated, mainly against peer-ratings in three separate studies. It does predict quite strongly the type of behavior it describes and has little social desirability artifact (Ray, 1976 & 1981a, Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). The political correlates of such a scale, then, must obviously be of some interest. Do people who behave in an authoritarian way interpersonally tend to be conservative? There are now four studies (Ray, 1976, 1979, 1982 & 1984c) which show that there is in fact no overall relationship between the Directiveness scale and either vote or ideology. Leftists in all senses are just as likely to get high scores on it as Rightists. Interpersonal authoritarianism - in other words, authoritarian personality -- is just as common on the Left as the Right. Again, there is no shortage of authoritarianism of the Left.

A small consolation in this context, however, may be that high scores on the Directiveness scale have been shown not to be psychopathological. They tend in fact to be associated with positive mental health (Ray, 1979 & 1984d). As among animals, it is healthy to try to dominate others (Burnet, 1970).

For my fifth proof of psychopathology among Leftists, I assume that racism represents some sort of psychopathology. I in fact think that racism could on at least some occasions not be psychopathological but since negative racial attitudes among conservatives have been used to brand conservatives as in some sense deficient, I think it is only fair to apply the same judgment when considering Leftists. What is sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander. I wish, then, to take you back to the "A" scale I mentioned a little previously. I pointed out that although the "A" scale was designed as a measure of authoritarianism, it could also just as well be referred to as a measure of conservatism. Low scorers on it, in other words are definitely Leftists. Yet the relationship between that scale and ethnocentrism is in fact orthogonality! Racists are just as likely to be low scorers as high scorers. Anti-authoritarian Leftists are just as likely to be against foreigners as are pro-authoritarian Rightists! If racism makes authoritarian Rightists psychopathological then the same applies to anti-authoritarian Leftists as well. And note that the "A" scale is a balanced scale not prone to acquiescence artifact. Other than that it differs from the F scale mainly in that its items are more reasoned and intelligent-sounding. Thoughtful conservatives and thoughtful Leftists are equally likely to be racist (or non-racist). The sample on which the relationship was tested was again of Army conscripts so should again be of unusually good generalizability. In case anybody might be wondering what un-thoughtful Leftists might do, let me suggest as food for thought the fact that for many years in Australia, the great bastion of support for the notorious White Australia policy (i.e. Australia's refusal to accept non-European immigrants) was the Australian Labor Party - Australia's main Leftist party. The policy was eventually abolished by a conservative government. In referring to the possibility of Chinese immigration, it was a noted Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, who made the famous remark, "Two Wongs don't make a white".

The original reason why Adorno et al tried to measure authoritarian personality via attitudes rather than directly was that they thought people would not admit openly to authoritarian motives. They thought to detect motives covertly by finding out what people said they believed in. As we have seen, they were too covert by half. They ended up measuring something of virtually no behavioral relevance at all. Nonetheless, the direct approach to finding out people's motives and tendencies (as embodied in the Directiveness scale) does appear to have its limitations. Even if it is not strong, there is after all generally at least some correlations between the Directiveness scale and social desirability. Lichter & Rothman (1982), therefore, have, as part of a considerable series of papers on the general topic of student radicalism, taken the expedient of measuring attributes associated with authoritarianism via projective tests. Projective tests, of course, hold out the promise of enabling us to detect motivations that respondents would not willingly acknowledge. One would have thought that the prospect of student radicals being unaware of what was going on during projective testing was rather slight, but for all that Lichter & Rothman (1982) have found a number of admittedly weak relationships with student radicalism. They find that radical student activists show higher than normal need for power combined with fear of power. They are also unusually narcissistic and "phallic" - a Freudian term for immature assertiveness. Projective tests are of course often criticized for their lack of test-retest or internal consistency reliability but unfortunately Lichter & Rothman provide no information on this aspect of their work. Their most important achievement may therefore be another part of their work: the way they have debunked the early studies which showed student radicals as particularly mentally healthy. They showed that the measures of mental health used contained items such as: "I am a bit of a radical". One is hardly surprised that such measures of mental health were found to correlate with measures of radicalism. The two variables were characteristically artifactually confounded.

Variables other than authoritarianism

One adjustment variable that even Leftists will generally acknowledge as adversely related to Leftists is alienation - the feeling of estrangement from those about one. Many Leftists would even argue that alienation is inevitable for anyone who rejects materialistic values and yet lives in a materialistic society. I have confirmed the relevance of this syndrome to Australia. I found among a group of Australian University students a tendency for Alienation and Neuroticism to be associated and a tendency for Alienation to be more common among those of Leftist sympathies. This seems then a surprisingly uncontroversial way in which Leftism can be maladaptive (Ray & Sutton, 1972).

Unfortunately, it holds true only among students. When I applied a very carefully constructed Alienation scale to a random sample of 118 people interviewed from door to door in Sydney, I found no significant correlation between this scale and a measure of general social conservatism (Ray, 1974b). Further, by way of some previously unpublished results from another study (Ray & Wilson, 1976), a short form of the same alienation scale was applied to a random Australia-wide sample of 4,554 people and a correlation of .023 was observed with another scale of general social conservatism. Among the people at large, therefore, it seems clear that Leftists are not particularly alienated. This does not however take away from the fact that radicals in our universities are alienated. It seems unlikely, however, that this is due to a rejection of materialism - as we shall see later.

Another well-documented correlation between maladaptive personality and Leftism is Locus of control. Leftists are routinely found to be characterized by an external orientation (Ray, 1980), which is considered to be much less adaptive than an internal orientation. Conservatives have a sense of personal power and efficacy whereas Leftists tend to believe everything is out of their hands. Most of the research on the topic has been with students but I was nonetheless able to replicate the key relationships with a community sample (Ray, 1980a).

An area that has seen very little study is the relationship between Leftism and moralism. There are good grounds for believing moralism to be maladaptive. To believe that "is good" or "is right" statements are about objective moral properties rather than mere value judgments is surely a fairly serious misconception about the rules for behavior (Maze, 1973; Ray, 1981b). I therefore carried out a study designed to look at moralism in politics (Ray, 1974c). I found that although radicals were less willing to admit the reality of objective moral properties, they alone saw statements asserting the objective reality of moral properties as socially desirable. Although their ideology worked against belief in objective moral properties, they were still apparently attracted by the notion. This relationship was observed in two separate groups of student subjects using two quite different measures of moralism. Apparently, then, moralism has normative force among radicals even though they intellectually reject it. There was no correlation at all between social desirability and moralism among conservatives. When a radical adopts moralistic discourse, therefore, he is "faking good" to impress his fellow radicals. Such a front would not impress conservatives at all. That radicals should feel obliged to act a part that they intellectually reject is surely an unhappy form of adjustment. At the least, it bespeaks serious compartmentalization.

In recent years, there has developed a strong tendency in psychology to index adjustment by self-esteem. Perhaps under the influence of the anti-psychiatry movement (Laing, 1969; Szasz, 1970), psychologists have increasingly come to believe that arbitrary judgments by self-proclaimed "experts" about what constitutes "good adjustment" are untenable. All that matters is how the person feels about himself. If he is happy with himself and his lifestyle who are we to criticize? High self-esteem, then, means good adjustment. In some as yet unpublished work using an Australia-wide postal sample (N = 95) I found a correlation between conservatism and self-esteem significant at the .05 level on a one-tailed test only. Conservatives had the higher self-esteem. Even if further work with larger samples should confirm this relationship, however, it obviously accounts for very little of the variance in radicalism/conservatism.

Further, let us look at the common radical accusation that conservatism is the politics of greed. This can easily be examined by correlating a conventional scale of materialistic achievement motivation with either vote or ideology. In four studies of this kind carried out so far in Australia, England and Scotland, three have shown that conservatism and achievement motivation are uncorrelated. Radicals are just as greedy for personal materialistic advancement as are conservatives (Ray, 1980b & 1984c). They are just as likely to wish to be "more equal than others" as anybody else.

Another finding of "no difference" between radicals and conservatives is in the study of Machiavellianism. Christie & Geis (1970) report a range of studies correlating their scale with vote and could scarcely have found lower correlations. High Machiavellians are then equally likely to be found on either side of politics. There are just as many cynical, amoral manipulators on the Left as on the Right. As serious doubts have in recent times been cast on the validity of the Machiavellianism scale, however, this finding may need to be treated with some caution (Hunter, Gerbing & Boster, 1982; Ray, 1983).

Finally, in a very recent study, l carried out an examination of the relationship between sensation-seeking and politics. I tested the hypothesis that radicals are seekers after excitement rather than sincere advocates of reform. I used two separate indices of sensation seeking -- one a list of rather counter-cultural excitements and the other a list of very bourgeois, consumer society sort of sensations. It was no surprise to find radicals affirming a higher desire for the counter cultural experiences but they were also found to affirm a higher desire than conservatives for the experiences offered by the consumer society that one would have expected them to despise. Radicals crave new cars and the like even more than conservatives. Clearly there is a craving there for new sensations and satisfactions that even transcends what ideology would dictate. I might add, however, that again I used a general population sample rather than students. An ideological aversion to the consumer society might among students have been more triumphant. Clearly, however, insofar as revolutions rely on the people, a substantial part of the radical's motivation would seem to be revolution for revolution's sake. This is surely a rather immature and dangerous form of adjustment (Ray, 1984a).

In conclusion, then, the evidence for psychological pathology among Leftists that seems most convincing to me lies in the fields of denial of motives and sense of personal inefficacy.

References

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Go to John Ray's "Leftists as Elitists" blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "Marx & Engels in their own words" blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here)
Go to John Ray's "A scripture blog" (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here)
Go to John Ray's recipe blog (Not now regularly updated -- Backup here or or here)

Go to John Ray's Main academic menu
Go to Menu of recent writings
Go to John Ray's basic home page
Go to John Ray's pictorial Home Page (Backup here)
Go to Selected pictures from John Ray's blogs (Backup here)
Go to Another picture page (Best with broadband)