Strike Resource for St. John’s Day: Adorno and the Authoritarian Personality

I am still on strike, but it is St. John’s Day, one of the best days. This post was written over a month ago and thus predates some recently published revelations. It is anachronistic in that way. The reading, however, has permanent relevance, as it is an academic article on Adorno.

Adorno’s concept of the authoritarian personality can be easily Googled, although I am not doing it because I am on strike. Key in the theory, however, is the idea that there are attitudes surrounding authority common to both liberal democracy and fascism.

Both here and on Facebook I have spoken at some length about Reeducation and the Christian world view, which is a specific construction of the universe and the self whether it is made explicitly religious or not.

It is also worth considering Reeducation in relation to the authoritarian personality. It is as though Reeducands were expected to have this personality structure and to wish to BE the authority, and the purpose of Reeducation were to teach them to SUBMIT to authority.

In this way, Reeducation was intended merely to shift peoples’ positions in a small spectrum. It billed itself as revolutionary and life changing because its expected subjects were in fact very stubborn, very rigid, very authoritarian people. That was why they were constantly being told to relinquish their illusions of power and submit to other powers.

They really were little authoritarians, and they really were frustrating themselves because they did not have dictatorial powers, and they really would be happier relinquishing the desire to dictate. That is all well and fine. The problem is that they/we were also were not actually being shown broader vistas of life, but rather pushed to shift authority — within the same authoritarian world view — from ourselves to someone else.

That was also why exhortations on how any change is always good were so often repeated (yes — like pancreatic cancer, there’s a change for you, I said sarcastically — a comment which was not understood, but which I made because I really did not understand why we were expected to relinquish all discernment).

And that was why I did not understand what was meant by “change” — because I am all about change, and was accused of “taking risks” (moving across the country to a new job, things like this) and of being “bossy” by not agreeing that ALL change was always good.

They, meanwhile, kept saying change was good but they really meant changing their hair and giving away their personal power — the power they held appropriately as well as any delusions of inappropriate power — to someone else.

Axé.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Strike Resource for St. John’s Day: Adorno and the Authoritarian Personality

  1. The rigidified personality structure does seem to be the key thing in terms of identifying these types. In fact, earlier you said that you are still learning to discern who is healthy and who isn’t, or something to that effect. But it seems to me now that even though I have always had a sense of this implicitly, I, myself, have even complicated this too much. (One gets bogged down with questions of culture and so forth, which can be relevant, of course, but not directly so, to this key matter of discernment.)

    What seems key is totally this issue of rigidification or plasticity of the self — plasticity can be another way of looking at the capacity to exercise one’s own volition (it is not at all a passive thing actually). Those who are stuck in a rut cannot say, “I will do x today, and y tomorrow, just because it seems like a good idea, and I choose to do these.” Rather they need to be following some kind of law that tells them what to do and when to do it.

    I think it is more than theoretically possible to discern who is a rigidified person and who isn’t on the basis of training one’s instincts.

  2. Also, in my case, just knowing that rigidity is NOT considered normal. I do not not discern it … it is just that as a child I had been taught to consider that rigidity good, virtuous, special and so on. Not until a few months ago did I understand the opposite.

  3. Yeah, there are certain problems pertaining to upbringing and what one comes to consider normal from that. See my latest blog entry.

    Also I was discussing with Mike today that these days it is the Right that considers rigidity virtuous, although Mike told me that Stalinism revolved around precisely this notion.

    Anyway, I think the blind spot that the moralists have with regard to their celebrated rigidity is that it is NOT actually a feature of emotional (never mind ‘psychological’) strength to be rigid.

    I think Nietzsche’s autobiography Ecce Homo sums it up: that the measure of a person is how much they are capable of perceiving and enduring having knowledge about. “How much truth can a spirit bear, how much truth can a spirit dare? … that became for me more and more the real measure of value.”

    Rigidity, though — it can prevent you from deeply understanding very much.

  4. Stalinism, yes. And rigidity leads to brittleness.

    And part of the reason I put up with too much from people sometimes is an ideological decision I made in near infancy never to be rigid like certain adults I knew.

    Honestly, I wondered whether it were the beginning of rigor mortis or something — it’s why up until now I have more than the normal trouble with dying and dead bodies, for instance. In Reeducation they thought that was about some hidden or forgotten trauma not involving any metaphors but I insisted then and insist now that it was about emotional rigidity….

    (I am behind on everything, just got back from 3 days in MS seeing about part of my family’s branch plantation, it is a really amazing area, the proverbial land of cotton, and this plantation was 1760 acres acquired in 1837 for $38,200 USD. The historical interest of this is amazing, I could go on and on about what I have found already and I have just begun to dig!!! And nobody else wants to know about this, it seems, it’s too embarrassing, but I say everything is embarrassing, the air strikes on Afghanistan are embarrassing, so one might as well find out about it all.)

  5. Right. And of course few are interested in information that is not directly pertinent to the lives, times, and woes of #1.

  6. It’s good that you had a look at this plantation place. I tend to romanticise large stretches of land, so it is good that I was not with you.

    With regard to the inflexibility thing — I wonder if it attracts some people, kind of like a dating signal? Perhaps this is where conservatives got their idea that people are all basically predators? Except that we are talking about scavengers, who marry because their partner has so many parts that have been struck by rigomortis that they are likely to be unable to move/change/go anywhere for life?

  7. “Do not be jealous, lover of truth, because of these inflexible and oppressive men! Truth has never yet clung to the arm of an inflexible man.”

  8. Predators, scavengers, very interesting. This could well be!

  9. They romanticise themselves as “predators” but they are actually scavengers on the vulnerabilities of others.

  10. Michèle Ashburn

    These are in fact impressive ideas. Keep up wrinting.

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