Political Psychology 1990, 11, 629-632.

Note: A critique of other work by Duckitt can be found here

"Authoritarianism and group identification: A new view of an old construct": Comment.

Dear Prof. Renshon,

In what is undoubtedly one of the cleverer papers ever to appear in Political Psychology, Duckitt (1989) has recently presented a theory which both unites two diverse streams of thought (the "authoritarianism" theory of Adorno et al, 1950 and Tajfel's, 1981, "group identity" theory) and at the same time turns our conventional understanding of the area on its head. Instead of proposing that authoritarianism causes racism, Duckitt claims that racism can cause authoritarianism!

It would be nice to believe that such a meteoric performance was soundly based but that is unfortunately not so. It is my purpose here to point out some of the difficulties in Duckitt's account.

Confusing authoritarianism and socialism Duckitt (1989, p. 71) defines the authoritarian extreme of his "new" bipolar construct as "the belief that the purely personal needs, inclinations and values of group members should be subordinated as completely as possible to the cohesion of the group and its requirements".

This is a good definition of the requirements of a totalitarian State and it is clear that anyone who values the group so highly ought to be hostile to outgroups but how does it account for the leadership cults that characterize such States? Where do Hitler and Stalin types fit into this system? Duckitt leaves the authority out of authoritarianism! Authority is normally very much rested in the leader and only nominally in the group in an authoritarian State.

It is a democracy that genuinely rests authority with the group. On Duckitt's account it is only democracy that should be tyrannical!

To clear away such muddled thinking, I would like to propose that Duckitt has simply rediscovered socialism/conservatism. The various conservative political parties of the Western world are notable for the way in which they have long opposed the extension of State power and State demands while socialists have always justified the extension of State power and State demands on the basis that some individual needs or liberties do sometimes have to be subjugated to the greater good of the disadvantaged or of society as a whole. This Statist attitude has been seen at its most extreme form in Communist Premier Li Peng's orders to massacre peaceful demonstrators in Tien Anmen Square of Beijing, China, on June 4th, 1989 but milder forms of it (such as "soaking the rich" in the form of higher income taxes in order to give benefits to the poor) are familiar in democratic societies too.

The point, then, is that socialism can exist in both democratic and authoritarian forms and Duckitt's definition of "authoritarianism" would seem to include both as being simply different degrees of extremity.

Ideology and racism

On Duckitt's theory, then, "authoritarians" (socialists) should, because they give more weight to the importance of the group, be the most racist (anti-outgroup) and conservatives should be the least racist. This is an unlikely prediction, to say the least. In fact, with students as subjects it is Rightists who are most racist (Adorno et al, 1950) while in the general population the relationship appears to vary somewhat from country to country. Sniderman, Brody and Kuklinski (1984) showed that there was an overall relationship between the two among Americans but also showed that this relationship was due to higher education. Among Americans with only basic education there is no relationship between racism and conservatism -- as is also the case with British and Australian general population samples (Ray & Furnham, 1984; Ray, 1984). On no occasion, however, do we observe the relationship required by Duckitt's theory. See also Williams & Wright (1955) and Weil (1985).

Ingroup and outgroup attitudes connected?

A further problem for Duckitt is that there are now a lot of findings that call into question the traditional assumption that attitude to the outgroup is dependant on attitude to the ingroup. Studies such as Brewer & Collins (1981, p. 350), Brown, Condor, Mathews, Wade & Williams (1986), Driedger & Clifton (1984 Table III), Cairns (1982), Furnham & Kirris (1983), Heaven, Rajab & Ray (1985), Ray & Furnham (1984), Ray & Lovejoy (1986), Ray (1974, Ch. 46) show attitude to the outgroup as essentially orthogonal to attitude to the ingroup. Studies in the group dynamics tradition normally seem to force respondents to choose between the in- and the out-group but where the experiment is structured to allow more free choice the conclusions are quite in accord with the survey research studies cited above. As Turner (1978 p. 249) says, "Not only is ingroup favoritism in the laboratory situation not related to outgroup dislike, it also does not seem causally dependant on denigration of the outgroup".

Despite this wealth of evidence to the contrary, however, Duckitt goes on to build his theory around the old assumption that attitude to the ingroup does explain attitude to the outgroup. He mentions a paper by Berry (1984) which is capable of explaining why ingroup and outgroup attitudes do not correlate but fails to integrate it with the evidence mentioned above. He seems to see the "unrelated" circumstance allowed for by Berry's theory as exceptional, when in fact it is normal.

Are authoritarians racist?

A fourth major problem for Duckitt is his assumption that authoritarianism and racism are related. As I have recently set out at some length in this journal (Ray, 1988) the reasons why they are not, it would be pointless to go over the evidence in that connection once again. Suffice it to say that it would appear to be the old-fashioned character of the California F scale items which caused them to correlate with avowed racism rather than their pro-authority content.

Final evaluation

So Duckitt's theory which is ostensibly about authoritarianism and racism fails to study authoritarianism and fails to explain racism. The meteor vanishes before our eyes.

J.J. Ray


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