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HomeGeopolitical CompassThe AmericasHow to Live With Authoritarians

How to Live With Authoritarians

Authors: Karen Stenner, Jessica Stern

Affiliation: Insight Analytics, Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies 

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy

Date/Place:  February 11, 2021/USA

Type of Literature: Argument

Word Count:  2003


Keywords: Authoritarianism, Donald Trump, Populism, United States


The authors point out that the “siege” of the US Capitol by Trump-supporters gives an alarming hint regarding Trumpism’s dangerous impact. According to their research, perceptions of socio-cultural threat are the main drivers when it comes to the rise of authoritarian feelings and attitudes. Further, growing complexity and rapid change are named as overwhelming factors for citizens, having the loss of social order, status, and familiar way of life as perceived consequences. These citizens seem to see in Trump “the one, who is there for them and who truly understands their fears.” The authors claim that decades of research shows that authoritarianism is heritable, and provide a research finding that “about a third of the population in Western countries is predisposed to authoritarianism.” They further describe the nature of authoritarians as the following: they favor obedience, value strong leaders, have an inherent preference for oneness and sameness, and appreciate social homogeneity over freedom and diversity. Stenner and Stern indicate that authoritarianism and conservatism must be seen as distinct, since conservatism’s adverse view to change is the result of novelty and uncertainty. But both groups see multiculturalism, changing gender norms, and rapid globalization as threatening “their traditional American way of life,” having the effect that both are willing to use violence “to defend their values.” According to a survey in 2019 by Louisiana State University and the University of Maryland, not only Republicans, but also Democrats would use violence to defend their own values. The authors point out that the authoritarian preference for oneness and sameness is unlikely to change since it is innate, and therefore is unlikely to “be educated away.” Stenner and Stern conclude by recommending the new US administration to promote “equity and justice” while being cautious not to provoke authoritarians. 

By: Dilek Yücel, CIGA Senior Research Associate



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