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Far-left views share “key psychological traits” with far-right: Study

A new study from Emory University, described by the authors as the first comprehensive examination of left-wing authoritarianism, has found that those with far-left and far-right beliefs share “surprisingly similar behaviours and psychological characteristics.”

The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, also found that both far-left and far-right authoritarianism was a predictor of personal involvement in political violence, with those scoring highest on a measurement of authoritarianism being two to three times more likely to have engaged in political violence over the past five years.

Thomas Costello, one of the studies authors, said that “It’s a mistake to think of authoritarianism as a right-wing concept, as some researchers have in the past.” Ideology, Costello says, is secondary, and “psychologically speaking, you’re an authoritarian first, and an ideologue only as it serves the power structure that you support.” Academia’s failure to question left-wing authoritarianism, in the words of the authors of the Emory study, “limits the questions we ask as scientists, the methods we employ to answer those questions, and the types of theories we use to interpret our results.” This, they say, “has limited the kinds of knowledge we can produce.”

One notable difference between far-left and far-right authoritarians was that those with far-left views were more likely to think the world was a dangerous, and hostile place, and to experience “intense emotions and a sense of uncontrollability” in response to stress.

Traditionally academia has focused on the area of right-wing authoritarianism, with the idea of left-wing authoritarianism often dismissed as simply a myth. Bob Altemeyer, who created the scale used to measure right-wing authoritarianism, famously called the idea of left-wing authoritarianism “the Loch Ness Monster,” saying there was “an occasional shadow, but no monster.”

The scale Altemeyer created to measure left-wing authoritarianism, which he based on his right-wing authoritarianism scale, has been dominant in academia for decades. The problem, of course, is that the 20th century was replete with authoritarian left-wing regimes such as the USSR, the Khmer Rouge, Maoist China, etc.

Recent research, such as the Emory study and a 2018 study from the University of Montana, has started to move towards an acceptance that authoritarianism is clearly present on the left as well as the right.


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