Political Psychology, Vol. 7. No. 2, 1986, 395-396.


Dear Dr. Freedman:

I feel that I may have been defamed, perhaps unwittingly, by a book review published in your journal. I refer to James Carlson's review of Authoritarianism Across Cultures edited by Vinod K. Kool and myself (Political Psychology 1985, 6:1, p. 167). The words that disturb me are as follows: "However the authors of several articles in this volume demonstrate biases of their own that run in the opposite direction. The cover of the book is illustrated with a swastika." While the wording is cautious, the juxtaposition of swastikas with accusations of ideological bias, would, I submit, lead most readers to the view that the ideological bias of at least some of the book's authors is a Nazi one. This is a fairly monstrous accusation which obviously cannot be allowed to pass by anyone against whom it might be directed. I hope therefore that this letter can be published as a refutation of such an accusation.

For a start, Carlson has got his facts wrong. He knows so little about his subject that he has mistaken an everyday Indian good luck symbol for a Nazi Swastika. For his information, the two differ in that the arms of the Nazi symbol point in a clockwise direction while the arms of the Indian symbol point in an anti-clockwise direction. The featuring of the Indian symbol on the cover of the book originated from my amusement at seeing so many of them plastered up around the streets of Bombay. It struck me as a good illustration of the way that things which seem similar across cultures can in fact have vastly different meanings. It was thus a nonverbal warning about the difficulties of studying authoritarianism cross-culturally. Our warning was obviously too subtle for Professor Carlson.

Second, just who does Carlson think has ideological biases that "run in the opposite direction" to the biases of Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson and Sanford? His use of the plural suggests that there are at least two of them. Presumably the three distinguished but quite dark-skinned Indian contributors (Sayeed, Kool, and Nandy) are not likely to believe in the supremacy of the white race. Presumably the two South Africans who fled South Africa to get away from the society that Apartheid had created (Heaven and Orpen) can be similarly excused. Of the remainder, Thomas, Hanson, and Hogan have to my knowledge the sort of mildly Leftist views that are conventional among psychologists. That leaves only me and I have devoted virtually my entire academic career to warning that psychologists have vastly underestimated the threat that authoritarianism poses. Far from being an aberration of the mentally ill, it is characteristic of all human society. As an anarcho-capitalist, however, I am optimistic that we can overcome it.

Carlson's rather snide accusations therefore do not stand up to any close examination of them at all.


(Dr.) John J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Kensington, New South Wales, Australia

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