Education and authoritarian needs

college byJim Linwood
Authoritarianism in American Politics

[Via FiveThirtyEight.com: Electoral Projections Done Right]

Authoritarianism & Polarization in American Politics, co-written by Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler. (Disclosure: Jon is a longtime friend; we were in grad school together at Univ. of North Carolina.) The book is an examination of how authoritarian tendencies among American citizens inform and explain attitudes toward government, public policies and their fellow citizens. It is impossible to summarize the book properly in a blog post, but I wanted to hit on some of the points that struck me, many of which were unsurprising and yet startling to see demonstrated empirically.

The first point Hetherington and Weiler make is that authoritarianism is really about order–achieving it, maintaining it, and affirming it–and especially when citizens are uncertain or fearful. This, they say, is why authoritarians seek out and elevate, well, authorities–because authorities impose order on an otherwise disordered world. They provide a useful review the existing literature on authoritarian traits, which have been connected to negative racist stereotyping, a belief in biblical inerrancy, a preference for simple rather than complex problem-solving, and low levels of political information.

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An interesting set of numbers. It explains why authoritarian leaders want to keep the electorate uneducated. The citizens with the strongest need for strongest authoritarian leaders come from those with the least amount of education.

The easiest way to stay in power for authoritarians is to make sure that few people get a college degree. In fact, those with a graduate degree respond even less to authoritarian pleas than any other group n the figure.

Keeping people ignorant and misinformed is the best recipe for continuing power for authoritarian leaders. Claiming an educated person is simply an elitist makes it easier to maintain power. Denigrating the efforts of educated people has been a common ploy of the populist authoritarian.

Thus education, particularly public, is one of the best ways to oppose these figures.