(Article written for publication in The Journal of Social Psychology in 1999 but not accepted for publication)


John J. Ray

University of New South Wales, Australia

McHoskey (1996) expressed some puzzlement over his finding that Authoritarians as measured by Altemeyer's (1981) RWA (Right-Wing Authoritarianism) scale exhibit a caring orientation. He rightly points out that this is in some conflict with the usual conception of authoritarianism.

His finding becomes more explicable, however, if we bear in mind the evidence brought forward by Ray (1985b, 1987b & 1992) which suggests that the RWA scale is sloppily conceptualized and that what it measures is just another variant of conservatism. The "Right-wing" component of what the RWA scale measures would seem to have swamped any "authoritarian" component.

McHoskey's own results support this interpretation in that he reports a correlation between the RWA scale and self-rated Liberalism/Conservatism which is in fact higher than the average intercorrelation between the three RWA sub-scales. In other words, some sort of Left/Right orientation is a bigger unifying factor in what the items measure than is anything else.

McHoskey was aware of this criticism of the RWA scale but rejected it on the grounds that the RWA scale still shows significant correlates after the influence of self-rated Liberalism/Conservatism is removed by partial correlation. He concludes from this that the RWA scale does measure something more than conservatism.

In so concluding, however, McHoskey overlooks what has been long known (Lipset, 1959) -- that political party orientation is only partly determined by general Liberal/Conservative ideology. It is also powerfully influenced by economic and self-interest considerations. This means that general conservatism of ideology and preference for conservative political candidates or parties can readily have quite different correlates. That McHoskey found somewhat different correlates for the RWA scale and political party orientation is then in fact just what one would expect if the RWA scale were simply a measure of some sort of ideological conservatism. Since the RWA scale does not by Altemeyer's own admission (Altemeyer, 1988, p. 239) give any useful prediction of present-day political party preference, it is something of a mystery what sort of conservatism it does measure (other scales of general social conservatism DO strongly predict political party preference -- Ray, 1984) but "old-fashioned conservatism" (cf. Ray, 1990) might not be too wide of the mark.

If we reword McHoskey's findings more cautiously, then, we have a finding that conservatives of at least one sort show a more caring orientation. This is in accord with Ray's (1985a & 1987a) Australian finding that conservatives are more love-oriented and believe more in the power of love and with Peterson's (1990) finding of generally better psychological health among U.S. Republican voters. See also Elms (1970), Ray (1991) and Ray & Najman (1988).

Such findings will sit poorly with those for whom conservatives are the fount of all evil but, after the collapse of Communism, it must be acknowledged that Conservative thought has had considerable triumphs in at least the economic arena. To demonize conservatives is therefore now clearly both simplistic and old-fashioned. McHoskey's findings, therefore, may point the way towards a more balanced conception of conservatism.


Altemeyer, R. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Altemeyer, R. (1988) Enemies of freedom: Understanding Right-wing authoritarianism San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Elms, A.C. (1970) Those little old ladies in tennis shoes are no nuttier than anyone else, it turns out. Psychology Today 3, 27-59.

Lipset, S.M. (1959) Democracy and working class authoritarianism. American Sociological Review 24, 482-502.

McHoskey (1996) Authoritarianism and ethical ideology. Journal of Social Psychology 136, 709-717

Peterson, S.A. (1990) Political Behavior: Patterns in Everyday Life Newberry Park: Sage.

Ray, J.J. (1984) Attitude to abortion, attitude to life and conservatism in Australia. Sociology & Social Research 68, 236-246.

Ray, J.J. (1985a) Conservatives, permissives and love. Quadrant 29(1 2), 39-40.

Ray, J.J. (1985b) Defective validity in the Altemeyer authoritarianism scale. Journal of Social Psychology 125, 271-272.

Ray, J.J. (1987a) Conservatism and attitude to love: An empirical rebuttal of Eisler & Loye. Personality & Individual Differences, 8, 731-732.

Ray, J.J. (1987b) Special review of "Right-wing authoritarianism" by R.A. Altemeyer. Personality & Individual Differences 8, 771-772.

Ray, J.J. (1990) The old-fashioned personality. Human Relations, 43, 997-1015.

Ray, J.J. (1991) Are conservatives despairing? Rejoinder to Petersen & Wilkinson. Personality & Individual Differences, 12(5), 501.

Ray, J.J.(1992) Defining authoritarianism: A comment on Duckitt & Foster, Altemeyer & Kamenshikov and Meloen. South African J. Psychology, 22, 178-179.

Ray, J.J. & Najman, J.M. (1988) Capitalism and compassion: A test of Milbrath's environmental theory. Personality & Individual Differences 9, 431-433.

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