European J. Political Research 1991, 20, 209-212.


J.J. Ray

University of N.S.W., Australia


Middendorp & Meloen (1990) claim that working class people are more authoritarian than others on the basis of research which used as its measure of authoritarianism versions of the California F scale. It is pointed out that this scale does not measure what it purports to measure and therefore tells us nothing about levels of authoritarianism in any group. Better evidence on the question is referred to which shows no tendency for working class people to be particularly authoritarian.

Lipset's (1959) claim that authoritarianism is peculiarly working class seems to have attracted widespread attention among social scientists -- perhaps because of the allegedly "proletarian" orientation of Marxist movements. Subsequent research (e.g. Lipsitz, 1965; Grabb, 1979 & 1980), however, has given at best equivocal support for the thesis and a recent paper by Dekker & Ester (1987) is typical of this.

Middendorp & Meloen (1990), however, appear still to see the Lipset thesis as relevant and have attacked the Dekker & Ester (1987) conclusions to the effect that class correlates of authoritarianism are so weak as to be effectively non-existent. As I have on various occasions (e.g. Ray, 1983a & 1985) drawn conclusions similar to those attacked by Middendorp & Meloen (though Middendorp & Meloen would appear to be unaware of my two decades of work on the question) it would seem appropriate that I make some comment on the Middendorp & Meloen claims. This is particularly so because the reply given by Dekker & Ester (1990) is more of an attempt to define themselves out of trouble rather than a searching examination of the empirical work upon which Middendorp & Meloen base their claims.

The central problem with the Middendorp & Meloen research is that it relies heavily on derivatives of the California F scale (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik, Levinson & Sanford, 1950) for its measures of authoritarianism. From very early on in the history of authoritarianism research, the validity of this scale (i.e. whether it measured what it purported to measure) was questioned (e.g. Christie & Jahoda, 1954). Titus & Hollander (1957) reviewed the early work on the scale and concluded that it correlated fairly well with various pencil & paper measures but was an almost complete failure at predicting any behaviour that might reasonably be said to be authoritarian. Subsequent research has vindicated this early conclusion (Titus, 1968; Altemeyer, 1981; Ray & Lovejoy, 1983). Why Middendorp & Meloen still describe as "authoritarian" attitudes that demonstrably do not predict actual authoritarian behaviour is therefore a considerable mystery. What about them is "authoritarian"?

It is true that some items in the F scale do express approval for various types of authority and this can be shown to be sometimes mirrored in behaviour which is respectful of authority (e.g. Erthal, 1984; Higgins & McCann, 1984; Altemeyer, 1981) but being slightly likely to be submissive towards authority is patently only a small part of the vast complex of attributes subsumed under the term "authoritarian" (Adorno et al, 1950). The term "authoritarian" was devised to explain the nature of German Nazism but nowhere do we have any evidence that the aggression and destructiveness that characterized the Nazis has any reflection among high F scorers (Sutherland & Tanenbaum, 1980; Altemeyer, 1981).

For this and other reasons, there has been considerable debate about what it is that the F scale does in fact measure. From the work of Middendorp & Meloen (1990), however, one would never guess that any such debate had ever taken place. There have been various proposals about what the F scale measures (e.g. Gabennesch, 1972) but, as I have pointed out from time to time (e.g. Ray, 1983b, 1987a, 1988 & 1989), the idea that the F scale measures an old-fashioned orientation has considerable explanatory force. See also Hartmann (1977). This accounts for its usual correlation with various measures of racism (e.g. Ray, 1980; Meloen, Hagendorn, Raaijmakers & Visser, 1988). It is now of course very much old-fashioned in modern Western societies to avow openly racist attitudes. So tthe most that the Middendorp & Meloen data are capable of showing is that working class people have some tendency to be old-fashioned.

If, then, the F scale is incapable of answering the question that Middendorp & Meloen wish to ask, is there some other measure that would provide more adequate answers? There is. The Ray (1976) "Directiveness" scale has now been well-validated (Heaven, 1984; Rigby, 1984; Ray, 1987b; Ohja & Singh, 1987) as a measure that does predict authoritarian behaviour (conceived of as aggressive dominance at one pole and submissiveness at the other). Scores on this measure, however, show an occasional tendency to be associated with higher rather than lower social class (Ray, 1983a). Not once, however, has the relationship required by Lipset's theory been found.


Adorno,T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. & Sanford, R.N. (1950). The authoritarian personality New York: Harper.

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

Christie, R. & Jahoda, M. (1954) Studies in the scope and method of "The authoritarian personality" Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.

Dekker, P. & Ester, P. (1990) Authoritarianism and the concept of class: A reply to Middendorp & Meloen. European J. Political Research 18, 269-275.

Erthal, T.C. (1984) Personalidade e mudanca de atitude.Arquivos Brasileiros de Psicologia 36(3), 90-98.

Gabennesch, H. (1972) Authoritarianism as world view American J. Sociology 77, 857-875

Grabb, E.G. (1979) Working class authoritarianism and tolerance of outgroups: A reassessment. Public Opinion Quart. 43, 36-47.

Grabb, E.G. (1980) Social class, authoritarianism and racial contact: recent trends. Sociology & Social Res. 64, 208-220.

Hartmann, P. (1977) A perspective on the study of social attitudes. European J. Social Psychol. 7, 85-96.

Heaven, P.C.L.(1984) Predicting authoritarian behaviour: Analysis of three measures. Personality & Indiv. Diffs. 5, 251-253.

Higgins, E.T. & McCann, C.D. (1984) Social encoding and subsequent attitudes, impressions and memory: "Context-driven" and motivational aspects of processing. J. Pers. Social Psychol. 47, 26-39.

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

Lipsitz, L. (1965) Working class authoritarianism: A re-evaluation. Amer. Sociological Rev 30, 103-109.

Meloen, J.D., Hagendoorn, L., Raaijmakers, Q. & 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 Political Psychology 9, 413-429.

Middendorp, C.P. & Meloen, J.D. (1990) The authoritarianism of the working class revisited. European J. Political Research 18, 257-267.

Ohja, H. & Singh, Rajiv R. (1987) Directiveness scale in Hindi. Indian Psychological Review 32(5-6), 50-52.

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. (1983a) The workers are not authoritarian: Attitude and personality data from six countries. Sociology & Social Research, 67 (2), 166-189.

Ray, J.J. (1983b) Half of all authoritarians are Left-wing: A reply to Eysenck and Stone. Political Psychology, 4, 139-144.

Ray, J.J. (1985) Using multiple class indicators to examine working class ideology. Personality & Individual Differences 6, 557-562.

Ray, J.J. (1987a) Intolerance of ambiguity among psychologists: A comment on Maier & Lavrakas. Sex Roles 16, 559-562.

Ray, J.J. (1987b) The validity of self-reports. Personality Study & Group Behaviour 7(1), 68-70.

Ray, J.J. (1988) Why the F scale predicts racism: A critical review. Political Psychology 9(4), 671-679.

Ray, J.J. (1989) The scientific study of ideology is too often more ideological than scientific. Personality & Individual Differences, 10, 331-336.

Ray, J.J. & Lovejoy, F.H. (1983). The behavioral validity of some recent measures of authoritarianism. Journal of Social Psychology, 120, 91-99.

Rigby, K. (1984) Acceptance of authority and directiveness as indicators of authoritarianism: A new framework. J. Social Psychology 122, 171-180.

Sutherland, S.L. & Tanenbaum, E.J. (1980) Submissive authoritarians: Need we fear the fearful toadie? Canadian Rev. Sociology & Anthropology 17, 1-23.

Titus, H.E. (1968). F scale validity considered against peer nomination criteria. Psychological Record, 18, 395-403.

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

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