The Journal of Social Psychology, 1976, 99, 163-166.


University of New South Wales, Australia



Neither Thomas nor previous writers produce adequate evidence to support the claim that Australian culture is in general more authoritarian than North American culture. The claim that the State of Queensland is an especially authoritarian region of Australia is similarly faulty. Both claims ignore public evidence contradicting them. Previous research has shown that the Conservatism scale used by Thomas is questionable as a measure of authoritarianism. Thomas' sample of 56 Brisbane mothers also does not permit the generalizations he wishes to make. His study must then be discounted.

Thomas (9) rightly attacks flaws in previous research into the relationship between authoritarianism and racial prejudice. His main interest is whether any work done with the F scale can be said to be valid and -- whether any relationship that does exist might be culture-specific. Specifically, he examines whether the relationship between social distance measures and the Wilson and Patterson (11) Conservatism scale might not be low among members of the supposedly authoritarian culture in the State of Queensland, Australia.

While one can hardly disagree with his criticisms of the F scale's validity (3), his further assertion that the Conservatism scale is a better measure of authoritarianism and that the State of Queensland has an authoritarian culture are both highly questionable.

To take the latter assertion first: The implied claim of similarity between Australian society and South African society is fanciful. If having 1% versus 75% of your population colored does not make any difference to race-relations, it is hard to imagine what would. Race is a very minor consideration in Australian political life and social organization. It is even less of a consideration than it is in the United States -- let alone South Africa. Additionally, as Berry (2) rightly says, the pervasive cultural myth and dominant cultural value in Australia is egalitarianism -- not authoritarianism (1, 10). Australians almost universally believe themselves to be the most egalitarian nation on earth (as is in fact evidenced by the generally small percentage variations in individual incomes) and are intensely proud of it. Numerous tales of irreverence for authority in Australia's armed forces during both world wars are proudly recounted as evidence of a characteristic difference between Australian culture and the older cultures of Europe. Attempts to show that Australians are still somehow deep down authoritarian (2) have not been successful (4). Certainly, to the extent that they do periodically elect socialist governments, Australians are at least less conservative than either South Africans or Americans.

It is true, however, that within Australia itself it is a popular journalistic stereotype to regard Queenslanders as particularly authoritarian. This view seems to have been formed by the present Queensland government's treatment of anti-Apartheid demonstrators and the same government's censorship of allegedly "pornographic" materials. Latterly, allegedly unfair aspects of Queensland's Aboriginal welfare legislation have also come under public fire. Thomas (9) also mentions informal discrimination against Aborigines in some Queensland rural towns.

All stereotypes, however, must be critically examined, and to judge Queensland's degree of illiberality or authoritarianism solely on the grounds so far mentioned is extremely one-sided. The other side of the picture is that Queensland was for many years ruled by Australia's major Leftist party (the A.L.P.) and the present "conservative" government gained power only after a disastrous split in the State A.L.P. There were numerous notable socialist innovations in those earlier days --some of which (such as the abolition of the State Upper House of Parliament, free hospital medical care for all, and State-sponsored gambling in the form of the "Golden Casket" lottery) survive to this day and have still not been fully emulated by other Australian States. Although they are much maligned, it is also true that the Queensland police force differs from other Australian forces in remaining unarmed.

Even the present Queensland "conservative" government has an impressive record of liberal reforms. The first person of Aboriginal race to sit in any Australian house of parliament (Senator Bonner) was initially a nominee of the Queensland government. The same government has also given a lead in anti-sexist legislation and Sunday drinking in its hotels -- both things in which it has still not been emulated by the major States. Queensland was also ahead of the major States in enacting an enlightened penal code -- including such innovations as weekend jail sentences for selected criminals.

Even in the things for which it is criticized, Queensland is far from unique. Informal discrimination against Aborigines in rural towns has been as much a subject of Leftist and journalistic protest in New South Wales (Australia's most populous State) as it has in Queensland -- if not more so. Harsh attitudes towards Leftist street demonstrators are also not unique. "Run over the bastards" as a now-famous response to demonstrators lying down in front of his official car was an utterance not of the Queensland but of the New South Wales Premier. It should also be noted that the present Queensland Aboriginal welfare legislation which some Leftists object to as paternalistic was in fact drawn up with the active consultation and cooperation of Aboriginal community leaders.

At the very least, then, the claim by Thomas (9) that Queensland represents an authoritarian culture must be seen as a highly tendentious one. There may be ways in which Queensland is more authoritarian than Northern United States culture but there are also surely ways in which it is less so. Any overall difference would be hard to establish.

Thomas' further claim that the Conservatism scale by Wilson and Patterson (11) is an adequate measure of authoritarianism is equally tendentious. This common but unneccessarily loose confounding of the concepts of authoritarianism and conservatism has been under attack at least since the work of Shils (8). The two may in fact be empirically related but to say that a measure of the one is also a measure of the other is surely more representative of political rhetoric than of the care one should be able to expect in social science. Ray (5) even documents findings that, among Australian army conscripts, conservatism correlates positively with racial prejudice (r = .30), while authoritarianism correlates negatively (r = -.32). Authoritarians were more tolerant than non-authoritarians. Not only does this finding show that authoritarianism and conservatism may differ in crucial ways, but it also should have been discussed for its possible relevance to Thomas' central theoretical concern -- the correlation of authoritarianism and racial prejudice in an authoritarian culture. There is little doubt that the Army represents an authoritarian culture.

Even on methodological grounds, the Wilson and Patterson scale must be questioned as an adequate measure of authoritarianism. The many methodological problems with this scale have been summarized elsewhere (7) so will not be detailed here. Suffice it to say that on some occasions (6) the C-scale has been found to show positive rather than negative correlations between its supposedly negative and positive halves. This is strongly reminiscent of the attempts to balance the F scale -- the scale Thomas (9) wants to use the C-scale to replace. Thomas would at least need to examine and report whether the C-scale was so characterized in his administration of it.

Finally, if it is not too much like beating a dead horse, one must ask how representative Thomas' sample was. We do not even have any assurance that Thomas' 56 Brisbane mothers were representative of Brisbane mothers, let alone of any larger population.

In conclusion, then, it must be said that Thomas' attempt to advance our understanding of the correlation between authoritarianism and racial attitudes was not successful.


1. BERRY, J. W. The stereotypes of Australian states. Australian J. Psychology, 1969, 21, 227-233.

2. BERRY, J. W. Preliminary evidence for personal authoritarianism and ethnocentrism in Australians. Politics, 1970, 5, 228-229.

3. RAY, J.J. (1971) An "Attitude to Authority" scale. Australian Psychologist, 6, 31-50.

4. RAY, J.J. (1971) Australians authoritarian? A critique of J.W. Berry. Politics 6, 92.

5. RAY, J.J. (1972) Militarism, authoritarianism, neuroticism and anti-social behavior. Journal of Conflict Resolution 16, 319-340.

6. RAY, J.J. (1972) Are conservatism scales irreversible? British J. Social & Clinical Psychology 11, 346-352.

7. RAY, J.J. (1974) How good is the Wilson & Patterson Conservatism scale? New Zealand Psychologist 3, 21-26.

8. SHILS, E. A. Authoritarianism "right" and "left." In R. Christie & M. Jahoda (Eds.), Studies in the Scope and Method of "The Authoritarian Personality" New York: Free Press, 1954.

9. THOMAS, D. R. The relationship between ethnocentrism and conservatism in an "authoritarian" culture. J. Soc. Psychol., 1974, 94, 179-186.

10. WARD, R. The Australian legend. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford Univ. Press, 1965.

11. WILSON, G. D., & PATTERSON, J. R. A new measure of conservatism. Brit. J. Soc. Clin. Psychol., 1968, 7, 264-269.

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