"A result of rigid toilet training"

I'm glad I called myself a "Goldwater liberal" before this latest bout of psychopolitical "analysis" started:

Something is rotten in the state of conservatism, says John Dean in Conservatives Without Conscience. Today’s conservatives are “hostile and mean-spirited,” “vengeful, pitiless, exploitive, manipulative, dishonest, cheaters, prejudiced, mean-spirited [again], militant, nationalistic, and two-faced,” not to mention “enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, antiequality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited [once more], power hungry, Machiavellian, and amoral.” Mental handicaps such as “intolerance of ambiguity, need for certainty or structure in life, overreaction to threats, and a disposition to dominate others” turn them ineluctably into “authoritarians” and “social dominators.” Unless stopped, Dean warns, conservatives “will take American democracy where no freedom-loving person would want it to go.”

Those who buy the conclusion that Dean all but assumes—namely, that movement conservatives are destroying the Republic—will find all this wonderfully cathartic. No need to troll the internet for anti-Republican Party talking points: Conservatives Without Conscience hits them all. The GOP has shifted to the extreme right and imposed virtual one-party rule; evangelicals want to install a theocracy and tear down the wall of separation between church and state; the Bush administration has stripped citizens of their civil liberties and emasculated the other branches of government; social conservatives hate women and gays and want to reduce them to second-class citizens; conservative legal scholars, merely by questioning the theory of judicial supremacy (which Dean confuses with the power of judicial review), threaten the independence of the courts. The right wing gets away with these and other crimes by being a bunch of hypocritical, sanctimonious jerks.

Humorlessly posing as a disinterested champion of the public weal, Dean defends his unkind words for conservatives by invoking the theory of the “authoritarian personality.” First introduced by the neo-Freudian Theodor Adorno in the 1940s but largely discredited by the 1970s, the theory evidently still has its champions, who have carried on a small, if obscure, research industry in its name. Their work does not appear to have earned widespread acceptance among academic psychologists. No matter: in Dean’s mind, as he spends the bulk of Conservatives Without Conscience arguing, the theory of the authoritarian personality establishes the malevolence of conservatives as scientific fact.

To anyone not blind with ideological rage, however, the theory has patent flaws. The whole thing turns out to be rather trivial, notwithstanding all the portentous claims made on the theory’s behalf. Take, for example, the work of Dean’s favorite guru, a University of Manitoba psychologist named Robert Altemeyer. Altemeyer has spent a career administering a questionnaire he calls the “Right Wing Authoritarianism Survey,” in which he asks subjects to agree or disagree with statements such as “the old-fashioned ways and old-fashioned values still show the best way to live” or “there is nothing wrong with premarital sexual intercourse.” After collecting the results, Altemeyer goes on to find that those who score high on the “RWA” scale also tend to be political conservatives. Well, yeah: the questions themselves do little more than elicit conservative or liberal attitudes in the first place. The RWA scale shows only that conservative beliefs correlate well with . . . other conservative beliefs. Call it science if you will—Dean does—but it certainly hasn’t much in the way of explanatory power.

Sigh. Read the whole thing. (Not Dean's book; the review!)

Dean, who's reinvented himself too many times to count, has now come up with a very popular meme that echoes the conservatism-as-mental-illness idea, but with a new twist -- the word "authoritarian" doesn't distinguish between conservatism and mental illness! It's a Marxist term which conflates the political and the personal into one grand evil.

A marvelous label. And a very impressive one. A masterpiece, even. While there are definitions, they really don't matter. What matters is that if you disagree with someone who believes in this nonsense, you're subject to being called an authoritarian outright, or accused of having "authoritarian tendencies" if there's still hope for you.

If you really want to have fun, there's even a test here. The author describes Adorno as having produced,

a Freudian-Marxist melange of pseudo-scientific speculative foolishness that is now, thank God, thoroughly discredited.
Not discredited enough, it would seem. The Adorno-Dean authoritarian diagnosis is taking the leftie blogs by storm, with wannabes like Greenwald, Neiwert, and Sadly, No! all elbowing their way in. Be the first on your block!

Jonah Goldberg (doubtless an authoritarian fascist if ever there was one) has more on Adorno:

[T]his is a very, very old game. Ever since Theodor Adorno came out with his scandalously flawed Authoritarian Personality in 1950, liberal and leftist social scientists have been trying to diagnose conservatism as a psychological defect or sickness. Adorno and his colleagues argued that conservatism was little more than a "pre-fascist" "personality type." According to this school, sympathy for communism was an indication of openness and healthy idealism. Opposition to communism was a symptom of your more deep-seated pathologies and fascist tendencies. According to Adorno, subjects who saw Nazism and Stalinism as similar phenomena were demonstrating their "idiocy" and "irrationality." Psychological counseling, many argued, could cure these maladies. But for some it was too late. In 1964, an ad in the New York Times reported that 1,189 psychiatrists determined that Barry Goldwater was not "psychologically fit" to be president.

Goldwater??? Huh?

Like I said, I'm glad I got my foot in the door with the Goldwater liberal meme before John Dean, 'cause he's now claiming to be that and it hurts my feelings big time!

Yes, it's true. Dean (of whom I've complained many, many, many times), not only continues to obfuscate his role in Watergate, but he's now attempting to claim the mantle of Barry Goldwater:

Before the break, though, before lights, camera and complete inaction on the part of the assembled crowd, Dean talked about the current state of politics. Much like during his interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, he said that he is a Goldwater conservative, but in this day, that places him left of center.

From what I gleaned in the discussion and Q&A session (again, not showing my complete political ignorance), Dean's new book, Conservatives Without Conscience, focuses on the authoritarian aspects of the current administration and the big league players in American politics. He talked about growth of executive powers and an administration shrouded in secrecy.

But. But. But -- Goldwater was right wing, wasn't he?

An anonymous commenter noted this very thing:

Anonymous said...

a goldwater conservative is certainly not anywhere near left of center. His brand of conservatism is right of the current administration on all but a few red herring social issues.

The problem for Dean (as well as the leftists who want to claim the mantle of Goldwater while labeling libertarians and conservatives as mentally deranged pseudo-proto fascists) is that the commenter is right.

Goldwater conservatism may be many things, but it simply is not leftism (my satirical "Goldwater liberal" business notwithstanding).

From Goldwater's "The Conscience of a Conservative":

"I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them."
George F. Will defined Goldwater conservatism thusly:
"muscular foreign policy backing unapologetic nationalism; economic policies of low taxation and light regulation."
Others have (at least, so I think) strained to redefine Goldwater conservatism as moral conservatism, and have noted Goldwater's shift leftward in his later years, but I think they overlook the clear overall libertarian focus on individual freedom.

I would agree with George F. Will's definition. I tend to see him as what most bloggers would call a small "l" libertarian. In today's terms, a neolibertarian. (Precisely what's being called "extremist" and "authoritarian" in leftie blogs today.)

Will has more:

. . .[T]he domination of the Republican Party by cultural conservatives did make some other conservatives - libertarians and religious skeptics, among others - feel uneasy, even unwelcome. Being derided as RINOs - Republicans in name only - did not help.
No, being called names never helps, and I don't predict success for the authoritarian authorities, no matter how hard they try. (However, I can't help chuckling over the idea of a libertarian authoritarian. What's next? Anarchist authoritarian?)

Back to Will:

The re-emergence into Republican respectability of conservatism with a socially libertarian cast - Goldwaterism - is a development with a large potential to discomfort the Democratic Party.

The re-emergence can make the Republican Party more appealing to many young and suburban voters, two cohorts in which Democrats have recently made substantial gains.

I think he's is absolutely right.

But because the Goldwater-as-leftist meme seems to be striking a nerve right now in the antiwar crowd, I'd like to shatter their bubble and dispel any notion of Goldwater as a pacifist who didn't believe in strong national defense. For starters, Goldwater was a "hawk's hawk":

An ardent Westerner with a face as blunt and craggy as the state he represented, Goldwater believed in less government and a strong military.

During the Cold War, he was a hawk's hawk, possessing a deep distrust of the Soviet Union. He also was a stickler for the Constitution and the way he interpreted it. Although he banned racial discrimination in his family's department stores and worked toward a similar ban for Arizona schools and the National Guard, he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because he believed it was unconstitutional.

(I wonder what label would be tacked onto anyone expressing opposition to the Civil Rights Act today . . .)

Like me, and many libertarians, Goldwater did have a serious problem with the religious right:

When the new religious right began its takeover of the Republican Party in the 1980s, he broke with them when they advocated limits on the court's ability to bar prayer in school or order busing. He thought their demands would breach the separation of powers between the courts and the Congress, and that religion had no place in politics.

He believed that the federal government should stay out of people's private lives, which is why, late in life, he came out pro-choice and pro-gay rights.

This made him a libertarian. But he never became a dove. Even late in life, he still expressed sympathy with sending troops to Central America -- when we hadn't even been attacked! (John Dean complains of "more covert activity going on, both abroad and maybe here in the United States, than in decades because of this so-called war on terror." Goldwater would be calling for more, as he did when Reagan was president.)

No one with any memory of Barry Goldwater can forget that he was a war hawk. On Vietnam for example, he was to the right of anyone in politics:
Goldwater was a fervent hawk who believed that nuclear weapons could help bring victory in Vietnam.
There's more, and if you read it, it'll curl your hair. It makes Bush's war on terror look like what George Wallace used to call "pussyfootin' around."

But regardless of whether you see Goldwater as a neolibertarian, or of social conservative who became a libertarian late in life, the idea that John Dean -- an antiwar activist who's made a career out of calling for Bush's impeachment -- is a "Goldwater conservative" is laughable.

I wish I thought it was funnier.

But I can't stop thinking about September 11, and what Goldwater's reaction might have been to the United States being attacked.

I remember that he made very ominous comments during the Iranian hostage crisis, threatening to bomb Iran back into the stone age if a single hostage was hurt. I think he would have been far angrier on 9/11.

Goldwater was not unfamiliar with the tactic psychoanalytic labeling of political opponents:

. . .In 1964 a large number of American 'qualified' psychologists signed what purported to be a professional analysis of Senator Goldwater as a clinically unbalanced character. I remember the anger of mine, a professor of psychology at an American university and himself a strong opponent of Goldwater's, at this extraordinary breach of professional ethics and of scientific principle. (Goldwater eventually received heavy damages from them in a court action.)
What sort of things did they say about this man who was the greatest threat the world had ever seen?
In 1964, "Fact" magazine quoted dozes of liberal psychiatrists analyzing Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. Some examples: "A dangerous lunatic..." "a result of rigid toilet training..." Goldwater sued for libel and won.
The only thing new about this is that people are taking it seriously.

I'll be kind, and I won't accuse them of projection.

UPDATE: My extreme (er, should that be "extremest"?) thanks to Glenn Reynolds, for linking this post!

I welcome all comments on this exciting new hybrid phenomenon -- and I think it deserves a new name:

"Goldwater Marxism."

Extremism in pursuit of socialism is no illness!

MORE (07/19/07 -- 11:00 a.m.): Sorry it has taken so long to update as well as edit a few mistakes. (The server has been overwhelmed, so I've been unable open anything, but I'll keep trying.)

UPDATE: I am surprised and honored to see that G. Gordon Liddy (who has been sued repeatedly by John Dean -- the latter discussed in several posts) has left a comment below, as follows:

Concerning Dean's book, "Conservatives Without Concience," I have this observation: Nowhere in the book will you find the name, Ida Maxwell Wells.

Dean claims, concerning the litigation he initiated against me and others over the book, "Silent Coup," that the litigation was "ended by the judge," but he neglects to say why: It is because I insisted upon a trial and Dean and his wife, fearful of what it would reveal, withdrew thier charges.

Then, Dean persuaded Ms. Wells to sue me on essentially the same theory, provided her with his own lawyer and, in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, in Baltimore, in whose files lies all the evidence to prove me right and Dean wrong, I won the case by a jury verdict.

For a summary, but certainly not all, of the Wells case evidence, see the appendix of my book, "When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country.

This interview of G. Gordon Liddy by John Hawkins has more details about the Wells matter.

The twists and turns of the Watergate story are complicated, and many mysteries remain. My own summarized view of these events is here.

MORE: My thanks to Dean Esmay for linking this post! I'm especially honored -- because according to the F-scale test, Dean is now officially certified as a "liberal airhead."

UPDATE (07/24/06): More here on "questioning authority."

posted by Eric on 07.18.06 at 11:36 PM


"Art is permitted to survive only if it renounces the right to be different and integrates itself into the omnipotent realm of the profane." -- Adorno

yurea   ·  July 19, 2006 6:56 AM

Wow ... this same exact comment just hit my Classics blog.

But other than that, great post. I've never read Dave Neiwart before, as often as you've linked to him, and I can't believe how insane he sounds. The 'right' really is a vast conspiracy comprised of Michelle Malkin, Bill O'Reilly, and all their puppets dancing to secretly coded messages.

Dennis   ·  July 19, 2006 7:09 AM

Goldwater is my kind of conservative, cut the government, strong defense, and lower taxes. All reasons I vote republican today. Not that you can tell with the Big Government spenders we have today.

James Stephenson   ·  July 19, 2006 8:05 AM

I did a paper on Adorno's F-Scale way back in the late 60's as a psychology undergrad. I noted then that the F-Scale was more of an attempt to demonize the right than any any thing else. Subsequent graduate degree and a lifetime of study haven't changed that assessment. I also remember a rather liberal professor in grad school lambasting those "psychiatrists and psychologists" who published the paper on Goldwater. One phrase he used has stuck with me all these years: "Any canard repeated often enough so that people believe it, is still a canard."

GM Roper   ·  July 19, 2006 8:12 AM

Isn't deeming your political opponents insane and commiting them an old Stalanist tactic? Hitler did that too, I believe...

Anonymous   ·  July 19, 2006 9:17 AM

"What's next? Anarchist authoritarian?"

Strangely enough, I saw that description online very recently. It was applied to H.L. Mencken. I think the phrase used was anarcho-authoritarian, but it's the same thing. I wish I could remember where it was. It might have been in The Corner.

JD Flanagan   ·  July 19, 2006 12:27 PM

Here's where you saw "anarcho-authoritian:" http://eddriscoll.com/archives/008614.php

Anthony in NYC   ·  July 19, 2006 1:25 PM

If defense of the "F" scale, I took its online incarnation a few months ago and emailed it to a friend to compare results. Despite being a die-hard capitalist piggy warhawk, the test declared me a liberal airhead, while my uberlefty friend was declared a crypto-fascist. Heh. We concluded that what the "F" scale actually measures is one's degree of respect for authority. Whatever the political persuasion of that authority. (Left, right, or off the chart.) I suspect that most teenagers, for instance, would score very low on the "F" scale.

dan dragna   ·  July 19, 2006 1:40 PM

"We concluded that what the "F" scale actually measures is one's degree of respect for authority."

Or, perhaps, how good a German you are.

Anthony in NYC   ·  July 19, 2006 1:50 PM

I wrote an entirely innocuous post but it was denied because of "questionable content". I wonder if that sort of censorship is an indicator of authoritarian attitudes

nelziq   ·  July 19, 2006 2:32 PM

Concerning Dean's book, "Conservatives Without Concience," I have this observation: Nowhere in the book will you find the name, Ida Maxwell Wells.
Dean claims, concerning the litigation he initiated against me and others over the book, "Silent Coup," that the litigation was "ended by the judge," but he neglects to say why: It is because I insisted upon a trial and Dean and his wife, fearful of what it would reveal, withdrew thier charges.

Then, Dean persuaded Ms. Wells to sue me on essentially the same theory, provided her with his own lawyer and, in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, in Baltimore, in whose files lies all the evidence to prove me right and Dean wrong, I won the case by a jury verdict.

For a summary, but certainly not all, of the Wells case evidence, see the appendix of my book, "When I Was a Kid, This Was a Free Country.

G. Gordon Liddy   ·  July 19, 2006 3:37 PM

As one who worked the Goldwater campaign and have changed very little in ideology over the years, I consider myself a Constitutional Anarchist. Maximal individual freedom under the constitution (including the 10th Amendment, which supercedes the so-called 'Elastic Clause'), but with individual responsibility.

Example: Roe v. Wade was an appalling decision; not on morality grounds, but because it extended a SINGLE ELECTIVE SURGICAL PROCEDURE (not one an individual does to themselves) as a constitutional right. Clearly, an issue covered by the 10th Amendment; it should relegate to the States (however messy that would be).

Mike O   ·  July 19, 2006 4:56 PM

Two of the questions on the "F-scale" test:

[21] Some day it will probably be shown that astrology can explain a lot of things.

[25] Most people don't realize how much our lives are controlled by plots hatched in secret places.

Hmmm. Given Jermoe Armstrong's past interests, and the prevalence of Halliburton/Bush stole Ohio/conspiracy of the week tendencies in Daily Kos and elsewhere, I think we've got some proto-fascists on our hands.

Ernst Blofeld   ·  July 19, 2006 5:02 PM

Dennis, I think cleaning up the Classics is good under these circumstances.

Nelzic, "that sort of censorship" is not an "indicator of authoritarian attitudes," but an indicator of automated anti-spam "attitudes." I can't say [v]iagra, [c]ialis, [h]oldem, [p]oker, [r]oulette, [c]asino, or any number of words it has banned. If you email your comment to me I'll be glad to figure out what happened.

Gordon, welcome! Thank you for visiting this blog!

Ernst, what are you suggesting about astrology? Hitler, Kos, and Armstrong?

Eric Scheie   ·  July 19, 2006 5:37 PM

interesting. I recognize most of the F test example questions from this political compass test someone recently inflicted on me. http://www.politicalcompass.org/ It also has echoes of the mass goldwater diagnosis in the ability of its authors to locate the politics of many world leaders past and present without the need for them to take the test. Nice to see confirmation of its dubious origins fall my way. Thank you for the commentary and link and hooray for the internet!

anon   ·  July 19, 2006 7:17 PM

...but there is no difference between conservatism and mental illness. The leaders of conservatism are probably genuises. It takes genius to fool the roughly 50% of the people in this country who pray to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who think reality is television, who never read a fucking book in their life, and who are always looking for a reason to hate blacks and homosexuals. That's the real Middle America. And I think I can safely call the masses (the asses!) mentally ill.

RayButler   ·  July 22, 2006 5:31 PM

94% of the American people believe in God. Your numbers suck.

(I don't, by the by)

Jon Thompson   ·  July 22, 2006 7:12 PM

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