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Political Psychology, Vol. 11, No. 4, 1990. pp. 815-817.

AUTHORITARIANISM AND POLITICAL RACISM: A Comment on Meloen, Hagendoorn, Raaijmakers, and Visser

J. J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

In their recent paper in this journal, Meloen et al. (1988) described their research among supporters of the Dutch "Center Party" and concluded that their findings supported the authoritarian personality theory of Adorno et al. (1950). The now virtually defunct Center Party had a variety of Leftist and Rightist policies but was also explicitly racist in that it advocated the repatriation of minorities. Meloen et al. showed that supporters of this party scored high on one-way-worded versions of the Adorno F scale. They described this as "the most important result" of their research.

It is also, however, an extremely unsurprising result. The F scale originated as a collection of those items which did empirically predict racism and it has never ceased to do so. What is interesting is why it predicts racism. What is it that the F scale measures? Adorno et al. thought that it measured authoritarianism and gave a complex psychodynamic explanation of what that was and how it came about. Many authors, however, have documented the problems with the Adorno et al. account of this (e.g., Altemeyer, 1981; Brown, 1965; Christie and Jahoda, 1954; McKinney, 1973; Ray, 1976; Rokeach, 1960; Titus and Hollander, 1957) so the debate continues.

Meloen et al. (1988), however, seem unaware that there is anything to debate. Their allegedly extensive review of the literature seems to have turned up nothing adverse to the Adorno et al. (1950) account and they hence make no contribution to what is the real issue (i.e., what does the F scale measure?). They seem happy to reinvent the wheel -- i.e., to show that the F scale predicts racism. All they have shown is something that virtually no one disputes, anyway. I am probably the most persistent critic of the Adorno theory and I have never disputed it. My work in fact confirms the association between racism and the F scale -- even under conditions where the usual methodological criticisms of the Adorno work have been controlled for (Ray, 1980).

Meloen et al. (1988) of course, are unaware of these criticisms. This is shown by their use of a one-way-worded version of the F scale. Balanced F scales have been available for years (e.g., Ray, 1972) so a decision to use the original F scale is hard to understand. Meloen et al. could be relying on the work of Rorer (1965) -- though they do not mention him -- to the effect that one-way-wording is a problem of trivial importance but to do that would be to ignore the many severe rebuttals that Rorer has sustained (Campbell et al., 1967; Jackson, 1967; Peabody,1966; Ray, 1983, 1985) The problem with one-way-worded scales is, of course, that it confounds acquiescent bias with meaningful responses. If Meloen et al. think that acquiescence is an unimportant problem, what do they make of Heaven's (1983) finding that a set of items which included many anti-authority items was also a strong predictor of racism? Meloen et al. (1988) follow Adorno et al. in thinking that it is the pro-authority content of the F scale items which accounts for the prediction of racism. Had they considered Heaven's findings, they might have adopted the more cautious belief that it is assent to old-fashioned platitudes of any kind which predicts racism -- regardless of whether such platitudes are pro-authority or anti-authority. Their own finding that F scores increase with age is some support for the "old-fashioned" qualification used above.

Additionally, one wonders at the lack of perspective these authors exhibit. Even elementary social psychology textbooks now describe ethnocentrism and stereotyping as "universal ineradicable psychological processes" (Brown, 1986). In such a context how can a theory be relevant which treats such phenomena as being so far from universal as to be the attributes of deviants only?

So while it can be conceded that it was of some potential interest to examine the attitudes of supporters of a real racist party, the methodological and theoretical naiveties of Meloen et al. (1988) have quite vitiated the enterprise.


Adorno, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. J., and Sanford, R. N. (1950). The Authoritarian Personality, Harper, New York.

Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-Wing Authoritarianism, Univ. Manitoba Press, Winnipeg. Brown, R. (1965). Social Psychology, Free Press, New York.

Brown, R. (1986). Social Psychology (second edition), Free Press, New York.

Campbell, D. T., Siegman, C. R., and Rees, M. B. (1967). Direction of wording effects in the relationship between scales. Psychol. Bull. 68: 293-303.

Christie, R., and Jahoda, M. (1954). Studies in the Scope and Method of the Authoritarian Personality, Free Press, Glencoe, Ill.

Heaven, P.C.L. (1983). Authoritarianism or acquiescence? South African findings. J. Social Psychol. 119: 11-15.

Jackson, D. N. (1967). Acquiescence response styles: Problems of identification and control. In Berg, I. A. (ed.), Response Set in Personality Measurement, Aldine, Chicago.

McKinney, D. W. (1973). The Authoritarian Personality Studies, Mouton, The Hague.

Meloen, J. D., Hagendoorn, L., Raaijmakers, Q., and Visser, L. (1988). Authoritarianism and the revival of political racism: Reassessment in the Netherlands of the reliability and validity of the concept of authoritarianism by Adorno et al. Polit. Psychol. 9: 413-429.

Peabody, D. (1966). Authoritarianism scales and response bias. Psycholog. Bull. 65: 11-23.

Ray, J.J. (1972) A new balanced F scale -- And its relation to social class. Australian Psychologist 7, 155-166.

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

Ray, J.J. (1980) Authoritarianism in California 30 years later -- with some cross-cultural comparisons. Journal of Social Psychology, 111, 9-17.

Ray, J.J. (1983) Reviving the problem of acquiescent response bias. Journal of Social Psychology 121, 81-96.

Ray, J.J. (1985) Acquiescent response bias as a recurrent psychometric disease: Conservatism in Japan, the U.S.A. and New Zealand. Psychologische Beitraege 27, 113-119.

Rokeach, M. (1960). The Open and Closed Mind, Basic Books, New York.

Rorer, L. G. (1965). The great response-style myth. Psychological Bull. 63: 129-156.

Titus, H. E., and Hollander, E. P. (1957). The California F scale in psychological research: 1950-1955. Psycholog. Bull. 54: 47-64.

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