Authoritarian Dynamic

The Fascisting of America: Explaining the Fifty Year Republican Plan to bring Fascism to America


We’ve been on kind of a tear playing with two new-to-us theories and models. First was Karen Stenner’s authoritarian dynamic as reported in her 2005 book of the same name. For deeper explorations of her work see the side bar. And, the second was Peter Turchin’s use of Cultural Evolution,  the cultural multilevel selection model, and the Price equation to “prove” that inter-group competition promotes intra-group cooperation, the groups that have higher levels of cooperation and trust will “beat” groups that do not, and cooperation is the only what our huge ultrasociety can succeed as reported in his 2016 book, Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth.” Also, see the sidebar for posts that delve deeper into the whole background thing.

In this post, the two approaches have an epiphanous car wreck to cement the long developing thesis that our decent into fascism is a feature not a bug in the Republican system of the past fifty years or so.

Effects of Extreme Individualism and Self-Interest

As Turchin notes, during the last 30 or so years in America, we’ve been running a huge social field experiment. From about 1945 to about 1975 when stagnation started, which set the stage for Ronnie Reagan’s ascension to sainthood, we had the most successful years of US politics: clear world leader, banging economy, evolving civil and gender rights, leading in scientific discovery and artistic creativity. We were doing what we always thought we could. We were living the big melting pot, we’re all in this together, the rising tide floats all boats dream, right? Sure there were some riots and assassinations and other signs of discord, but growing pains, know what I mean? But, we were achieving a more perfect union of all people being created equal. That’s the deal in broad strokes. Quibble with the thesis in the comments, okay?

Reagan and the Big Philandering Newt ushered in a new paradigm so we could compare the results with the old one. They brought a focus on extreme individualism and self-interest. That’s what they built the society around. Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union, cut student financial aide. bankrupted the country so we’d have to cut the social safety net; Newtie extolled the virtues of negatively framing Democratic opponents. Then, we got Karl Rove’s idea of turning strengths into weaknesses by lying your ass off, even if it meant destroying legitimate war heroes like Max Cleland, right Rick Wilson?

By promoting the win-at-all-costs strategy and emphasizing individualism and party loyalty over all other values, we started losing our ability to compromise as a large society. The underpinnings of trust and altruism that are necessary for the cooperation that an ultrasociety needs to function are fragile, easily broken, and difficult to repair. Once the glue of social cooperation and mutual trust has cracked and broken, social dysfunction occurs as evidenced by political instability and internal conflict.

Turchin and Sergey Nefedov studied eight examples of countries, societies, empires, or kingdoms that experienced such instability and published their findings in Secular Cycles. In each, internal conflict and declining levels of cooperation heralded social collapse. One of the phenomena that he sites in Ultrasociety is that as wealth and privilege build and income inequality widens, the elites become less interested in cooperating for the good of all and begin competing for greater individual gain.

Discontent Sets Off the Inner Authoritarian

When the elites begin to fragment, we see greater levels of discord in the country. It has a profound effect, because it activates the inner authoritarians of all those fragile snowflakes living amongst us. Yes, we are back to Karen Stenner’s authoritarian dynamic.

The authoritarian dynamic is her universal theory of the root causes of intolerance. Whether that is intolerance of ethnic differences as in racism, political intolerance as in the communist, socialist, fascist liberals hate us for our freedoms, or moral intolerance, the hate the sin, punish the sinner approach so popular among the religious right. This intolerance occurs when two conditions are met: (a) an innate disposition towards intolerance and (b) normative threat, when the world seems to be a chaotic mess of discord and conflict.

Sound familiar?

The Republican Tax Cut and Economic Collapse Cycle

As Republicans promoted individualism and individual gain, the pull yourself up by your bootstraps and then use those boots to kick those who can’t and passed as much of the money created by the hard work of the non-rich to the one percent as quickly as they could approach, the one percent started cooperating less and less with the rest of us and the government.

It used to be the fastest way to give the rich exponentially more money was to wreck the economy with incredible tax cuts for the wealthy job-creators, let a Democrat get elected president to fix the debacle, and then start all over again. This cycle led to the burgeoning income inequality today.

The Republican Dysfunctional Government Strategy

Republicans in office, particularly the Congress, started to actively obstruct and oppose anything that Democrats wanted to do whether they were in the majority or minority, whether they held the presidency or not. The Republicans did so that government would fail to provide for our citizens.

For me, this all gelled when I read this passage from Stenner’s article, Magazine: Essay – Authoritarianism, in Hope Not Hate. And, we will just let her words speak for themselves:

In diverse and complex multicultural societies, the things that make us an “us” – that make us one and the same – are common authority and shared values. Having institutions and leaders we respect and revere, and consensus on core beliefs and values is a large part of how we all understand “us”, and derive a sense of identity, meaning and belonging. For the “groupiest” among us, this is an even more important part of understanding oneself, making sense of the world, and feeling safe and valued within it.

Karen Stenner in Magazine: Essay – Authoritarianism

So, what happens when institutions and leaders are no longer deserving of our respect because they no longer uphold the values that make authoritarians fell like “us?” What happens when the percentage of white people living in your county perceptibly declines and more PoC are living in YOUR neighborhood? What happens when you can’t be absolutely certain that the person in the stall next to yours producing the ungodly stench doesn’t have genitals that match yours?

Well for most of us, as Stenner has found in her research, we become more inclusive, tolerant, and lenient.

As leaders fail, democracy disappoints, and compatriots test our bonds, non-authoritarians grow less attracted to populist candidates and causes, just like they become more racially inclusive, more politically tolerant, more morally lenient, less harsh and punitive… in general, less eager to use collective authority to control other people’s behaviour.

Karen Stenner in Magazine: Essay – Authoritarianism

For the asshole snowflakes as we’ve described them in posts past, they become more intolerant, racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, and all too happy to use government and violence to control other people’s behavior.

The Other Psychological Effects of Constant Stress

You know what else all of this long-term stress of living through such discord and strife produces, mass psychosis.

You know what else all of these authoritarians getting together to blow each other’s fragile facades up produces, groupthink.

When all of this started coming together over the past month or so, I literally felt a bit sick. If it hasn’t been clear that Republicans have charted a three to five decade-long course to get us to this point where our democracy is imperil, it should be now. While we are living through a perfect storm of psychotic masses of MAGAs willing to believe any lie that the Republican elites choose to throw at them, the immoral and disastrous decisions that get made when you don’t consider alternatives, the violence that ensues when you believe to your soul that you have to wrest your country from the heathen hordes that mean to do you and your kind in, we have to come to recognize that it is not an accident. It has been deliberately constructed.

And, yet there is hope. The hope that is born of the realization that cooperation will best conflict. That the authoritarian inner beast can be lulled back into its hibernation. That the non-authoritarians outnumber, and frankly, can outsmart the authoritarians. That the seeds of their own destruction have already been sown and they will not be able to outlast us. We have hope yet.

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Image Attribution

tRump the Wolf” by Thomas Cizauskas is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

30 replies »

  1. Hey Jack- You’re one of the few politically based blogs I still read. Just call me one of your intelligent reader who finds opportune times during my frequent travels to spread kindness and unity not conflict and division. The media is not helping our cause right now with the constant bombardment of negative news and right wing chicanery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Usfman!

      When the press seeks profits through clicks, shares, and likes, they are more likely to promote “viral” content and click bait. The things on the internet that go viral are those that appeal to exclusively to one side or the other. It has been a significant contributor to our current decline.

      I must admit that I’ve slowed way down in my writing about the state of political affairs in the US. In that sense, Trump and MAGA were a big impetus. I find myself much less inclined to write for just writing sake or hyping an issue.

      You are indeed one of my intelligent readers, and I greatly appreciate it. Safe travels, my friend.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Like

  2. Excellent discussion.

    An essential feature of fascism is the indoctrinated sense of victimization from scapegoats.

    This Martin Luther King day would be a good time to note the transformation of MLK’s legacy. White conservatives are doing their best to appropriate his message and shape him into their own image.

    They FEEL they are now the “real victims” of racist persecution..

    http://www.davedubya.com/2023/01/mlk-day.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Dave!

      There are several psychological things that come together in MAGA: the correlation of Dark Tetrad personality characteristics, which includes the narcissist’s I’m never wrong, and it’s always somebody else’s fault mentality, groupthink from an over emphasis on consensus and a lack of consent, mass psychosis from constant stress and gaslighting, the inner authoritarian being released ruing times of extreme stress, and racism supplies the focus on the Other. It is a perfect storm for the rise of fascism, but only if there were a mad scientist somewhere who could control the weather. These people have been working in one way or another on putting these pieces together for fifty years.

      But, I couldn’t agree more with the cultural appropriation of MLK and his vision.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Like

  3. Frank Herbert wrote that “There should be a science of discontent. People need hard times to develop psychic muscles.” (Dune, the book) I’m not sure I entirely agree with that now ~ having realized a certain pinnacle of success, we now wallow in what might have been ~ it certainly impressed me when I first read it almost sixty years ago. Fits with my hypothesis that the way to herd cats, or rats, is keep them off-balance; stumbling, not sure where they’re going or what’s coming next. Before Bourne, Ludlum wrote about it in one of his first “novels” after retiring from the intelligence community.

    I have herded some cattle, first job was on a ranch in Eastern Oregon; indeed, it’s where first read much of this stuff. Later, when I was teaching DOT Temporary Traffic Control classes I’d tell would-be flaggers that cars are like cows: ninety-nine out of a hundred are going to do exactly as you expect them to. It’s that one that’ll get you. Of course, the car itself is inanimate. It’s not the car that’s a cow.

    I don’t necessarily disagree, I’ve had a rough life, rougher than most …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Ten Bears!

      Having a progeny with emotional regulation issues, I do know that you cannot learn to manage extreme emotions unless you have emotions to manage. We had a border collie when I was in middle school and high school. He would, literally, herd the cats in the backyard. He would get them all pinned in the center of the yard and race around tagging any of them started to move. They would get incrementally further apart, until eventually they were too far apart for him to get from one side to the other before they could make a run for it. It was good sport while it lasted, though.

      I think one of the things that I didn’t bring out in the post is how we have about a third of the population extremely vulnerable to authoritarianism, so that to manage the situation, we have to placate that tendency. That was the topic of the previous post, but this just makes it more imperative to do.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

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        • Howdy Ten Bears!

          I’m of two minds of that exact thing. On the one hand, you have organizations like ALEC and other patriotically named organizations that are all out trying to enact their social and policy visions that have all been funded by the Koch Bros and their ilk. So, there is some kind of coordinated attempt to influence our politics through their obscene wealth. And, on the other there is the tendency of people in similar circumstances, facing similar problems, with similar tools at their disposal to come up with similar solutions. Which ever it is, conspiracy or coincidence, the root problem is the same obscene wealth and dirty money.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

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            • Howdy Ten Bears!

              Good luck doing that given that we’ve got a Supreme Court led by John “Money Doesn’t Corrupt” Roberts and his five authoritarians. Unless and until we get a Supreme Court majority, they are only going to rule in favor of the money interest and the MAGA base.

              Huzzah!
              Jack

              Like

  4. One of the hopeful signs currently is the rising interest and action, with some successes, in union organizing in workplaces previously not so inclined. Union organization is a great model for the cooperative approach. It brings a diverse workforce into a collective “The Brotherhood Of …” membership and identity. That, of course, why Reagan’s crushing of the Air Traffic Controllers was so important. It announced to the owners who had bought into the “Shareholder value is the only measure of success.” idea that they could beat the unions. And the fact of effective union power was one of the norms that had served for a generation or more to calm the fears of the authoritarian snowflakes. The loss of that reassurance delivered those anxious souls to the populist manipulators.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy Bob!

      I’ve been amazed at how the more modern workers for the tech firms like Amazon and the mod firms like Starbucks have been organizing. The whole drive for 15 had something to do with it, I guess. It is very heartening. I remember the air traffic controllers union being busted. It was very traumatic. And, it really hurt flight safety.

      I hadn’t thought of how unions might could help reassure the authoritarians among us. It is a good point. I know lots of people who take great pride in being a union member and it is part of their identity. It could work really well. I’ll add it to my list of things we can do to help assuage bent authoritarian feelings.

      Huzzah!
      Jack

      Liked by 1 person

      • It may seem odd, but there was another large item of membership that went away in the 1970s, the Draft. The shift to an all volunteer military was largely a reaction to the anti-war protests of the 60’s, but those were so large because of the membership identity of those subject to it was part of being an American. It also created a much larger population of men whose identity included being a veteran in a significantly diverse military.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Howdy Bob!

          Veterans and ex-service members are some of our most consistently conservative groups we have. By its very nature, the military attracts authoritarian types. We don’t need to have a knee jerk reaction to patriotism and the troops, but we should continue to (a) honor service and (b) fund veteran’s benefits. The more we can promote identity and membership in mainstream groups, you figure the less likely these folks will feel the need to let their inner authoritarian goose step across our rights and freedoms.

          Huzzah!
          Jack

          Liked by 1 person

          • I think it is likely that that conservative leaning has gotten more intense in the all volunteer military. With the draft, you got in there a lot of guys who did not choose to be there. Also, Back in the days of the draft the ratio of support troops to combat troops was 10-1. We had truck drivers, supply clerks, mechanics, medics, heavy equipment operators, cooks, plumbers, electricians, etc.(most of them, trained in the military). Now, all those functions, even in war zones are contracted out so everybody can be a “war fighter”. If they go in to be warriors, they tend to come out as warriors, maybe very broken ones, but still warriors. Many have become cops.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Howdy Bob!

              Good point. Not everyone has the disposition to want to be a warrior, so there’s already a self-selection process going there. When the only useful thing that you got out of your stint was how to act in a unit, wear a uniform, and use a gun, then you don’t have great options for employment in the civilian world.

              And, you know what they say about people who only have a hammer…

              Huzzah!
              Jack

              Liked by 1 person

                • Howdy Bob!

                  We keep electing people who have less and less insight into human nature so that they just go along with most of our bad judgment and poor instincts. It is maddening to watch.

                  I’m so glad that “All In The Family” and “The Jeffersons” haven’t been taken up in our revivalism of the past few years. No one would get them as the parodies that they weren’t meant to be.

                  Huzzah!
                  Jack

                  Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I don’t think we’ve had a serious candidate for president that wasn’t a Boomer — I get the names of the generations all confused — or at least the one right after the Boomers. There should be complaints about the age of our “leaders.” We should have younger folks in there. As much as I love Nance Pelosi, Hakim Jeffries showed he could walk the walk. Adam Schiff, Katie Porter, Amy Klobuchar and so many others of the youngish generations can lead us, perhaps better, given the problems with climate change that we face.

                      There are advantages to incumbency that inherently favors the older generation, but there are also advantages to the PACs that those older politicians control.

                      I’m starting to wonder if we as a species are just too individually self-absorbed and self-centered to survive as dominate species.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • The combination of incumbency, seniority, and floods of money is a formidable barrier to any ambitious younger politician. I haven’t kept track of the ages of the “Freedom Caucus” Republicans, but certainly Green and Boebert and a few others are younger than the party average in Congress. I wonder how much of their radicalism is generational frustration. The members of The Squad on the other side of the isle are also younger. Of course, now we have on the GOP side at least one new, young MOC who looks like a candidate for a psych assessment for Munchhausen’s Syndrome (as well as raging narcissism).

                      The gift of self-reflexive consciousness is a double edged blade, especially combined with large numbers and effective technology. Maybe the next dominant species with technology will be ants acting like a neural network mind without that troublesome individuality.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      That’s one of my favorite points to contemplate, ants as organic robots and how they could be used as a type of computer. Ants are just fascinating. I don’t know how much you’ve looked into it, but aside from being the most populous species on the planet and one with one of the widest ranging habitats, they’ve been around for forever. And, they have incredible pro-social behavior. Their ability to work together and sacrifice themselves for the common good is just amazing. Anytime I can watch ants work together at something, I stop and do it.

                      That said, the funding wars between the upstarts and the party stalwarts tells you a lot about how difficult it is to break into that rich inner sanctum. The fight between Greene and Boebert over McCarthy’s funding and the lack of support as Speaker tells you how it all works. I guess Santos isn’t going to be removed from Congress, but we’ll see if he gets any help in reelection. I suspect they will cut him off from funding.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • One of the fascinating things about the social insects is how much of their cooperation and organization is achieved through pheromones. When I see an individual ant apparently wandering, it is actually following a pheromone trail and the next one to come by will follow the same zig zag path, and if it leads to a rich food source, soon there will be a marching column tracing the route.

                      One of the ways that Trump messed with the GOP party establishment has been by his endorsements stimulating a lot of small donor funding for insurgent candidates, partially breaking the party leadership and major donor lock on who gets to run in the primaries.

                      If Santos (assuming that is his rel name) is removed, it will probably be campaign finance violations and possibly outright fraud prosecution that brings his downfall. If he is not, I doubt that he will get party support for a reelection attempt. He is such an embarrassment that they just don’t want to talk about him at all.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      One thing that the Republicans have done is given us all a great civics lesson. In 2016, they taught us how presidents are elected. Between 2016 and 2018, it was how to lobby and influence Congress. In 2018, it was the importance of your vote and electing Congress. In 2020, it was the quality of the people in office really does matter. in 2022, it was the importance of staying engaged and voting in every election right down to local elections.

                      We’ve been getting an incredible lesson in how our government works at all levels. Now, we’re about to learn the importance of compromise and legislating.

                      McCarthy has painted himself into a tight dark corner. He’s got five votes to lose and gave away proxy voting so only those present can vote. He’s letting in anyone regardless of vaccination status or masking, so he’ll be losing members to #COVID19 among other things. There will be important votes over the next two years that the Democrats will win just because on that day, they had more Democrats sitting in their seats than Republicans. Republicans will figure out that they can Manchin and Sinema McCarthy and whatever agenda they have. For him, it is practically hopeless.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • I strongly suspect that there are bookies in DC taking bets on how soon somebody in the House will call a vote on vacating the speaker’s chair. McCarthy might manage to survive that once if, and only if he either gets a few Democrat votes, or he promises the radicals even more. Either way, he’s screwed the next time it happens. It is an open question whether there is anybody else on the GOP side who can win to be Speaker.

                      Then, there is the real possibility that some of the Republicans among the radicals will be indited for their roles in 1/6. Even without that, the Freedom Caucus firebrands enjoying their new committee assignments are going to be pissing a lot of people off.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Howdy Bob!

                      I can’t see how this ends well for the Republicans. And, it just might not end well for any of us. 2024 will be a watershed moment. It is shaping up to the be showdown that will seal the GQP’s fate. Either they are vanquished beyond recovery and go the way of the Whigs or they continue to limit voting rights and liberty.

                      Huzzah!
                      Jack

                      Liked by 1 person

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