Exploring the Kyriarchy: Authoritarianism

Authoritarianism is primarily about control. Authoritarians use fear, propaganda, and misinformation to control others. Authoritarianism requires strict rules and punishments for breaking them. The rules may be applied differently to different people, depending on where one falls within the hierarchy. Authoritarian parenting relies on fear of punishment, including physical punishment such as spanking. Authoritarian religious practices control the behavior of the members of their congregations. Authoritarian regimes control their subjects. 

Some research in the field of psychology has identified common traits of authoritarians. They include a need for control, rigid expectations of rule following, and a need to punish. Punishment can come in the form of shaming, threats, or violence. Authoritarians prefer rigid institutions, such as fundamentalist religion and the military.

Authoritarian Patriarchy

The patriarchy - a social system in which the rights and needs of men are superior to those of women - is steeped in authoritarianism. This is made clear by anti-choice advocates who would defund programs designed to help poor families. The birth is prioritized over the health and wellbeing of the child, so the needs of the woman are not prioritized. Some anti-choice advocates have claimed that pregnancy is the result of poor decisions made by women. This leaves out the fact that it takes both a man and a woman to conceive via intercourse. This treats unwanted pregnancies as punishment for women for having sex, while no such punishment for men exists. 

The patriarchy also demands strict gender roles. These social rules shame LGBTQ people, either for being attracted to someone of the same sex, or for violating perceived gendered behavior such as choices about appearance. The concept that a strong man is one who expresses aggression, anger, and sexual desire, but little else emotionally, is a patriarchal idea about the roles of men and women. These positions demand strict rules, which may be enforced with violence. Some types of religion, especially fundamentalism, are associated with the authoritarian characteristic of rigidity in rules. Authoritarian religiosity is also associated with lower acceptance of LGBTQ rights. Authoritarians tend to prefer strict gender roles, and anti-choice abortion laws.

Authoritarian White Supremacy

White supremacy also is based in authoritarianism. The concept of in-groups and out-groups is important here. In white supremacy, the in-group is primarily a white, middle-class “normal.” Authoritarian middle-class whites perceive the potential loss of their majority as a threat to their wellbeing. “Others” are taking from them: their jobs, their educations, their women, their children. “Others“ are breaking the rules. 

Research studies have linked authoritarianism and racism. One study found that those who self report as right wing authoritarians responded with racial bias in face recognition tests, a standard psychological research method for predicting racial bias. Other research has found a link between support for authoritarianism and a desire for a racially homogenous (read: white) neighborhood. A research study published earlier this year found a link between those who fear a loss of a white majority and a preference for authoritarianism. Those who believe that democratic ideals - those affirmed in he US constitution - benefit people of color or other out-groups are more likely to favor leadership that can ignore democratic results, such as elections. 

Authoritarian Parenting 

One popular psychological model contrasts four types of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful. These can be measured on a four-way scale of more or less warmth and more or less control. In this model authoritarian parenting expresses more control and less warmth, while permissive parenting expresses more warmth and less control. Authoritative parenting expresses both control and warmth, while neglectful parenting expresses little of either. Among other factors, a balance of both warmth and control is shown to result in happy, independent children with good self-esteem, higher academic achievement, and better social skills and mental health. The children of authoritarian parents tend to be less independent, more insecure, less adept at social skills, and less able to perform well academically.  

The authoritarian parenting style demands obedience, so children are left little room to explore, take risks, and learn to moderate their own behavior and emotions. While these parents may believe they are preparing children to survive in a cruel world, their children may ultimately be less able to adapt, as they rely on tradition rather than exploration and experimentation. Authoritarian parents punish harshly, with yelling or physical punishment, often with no explanation of why the child’s behavior was wrong. This can teach children to obey without thinking, which can result in a lack of critical thought about conscience. It also could result in more rebellious behavior, a response borne of anger and resentment. 

Authoritarian Regimes

Authoritarian regimes rule over their subjects, as opposed to democracies, which require the participation of citizens to elect leaders. Democracies are based in majority rule, which is why citizens must participate. Democracies protect the rights of free speech and freedom of the press; these are necessary for an informed citizenry to express grievances and make voting decisions. Democracies also protect the rights of minorities, including the right to vote and employment and housing protections.

Authoritarian regimes exist in many forms. Some are authoritarian military regimes, such as in Egypt. Some are dynastic, such as in North Korea or Saudi Arabia. Authoritarian regimes restrict the freedom of the press, such as in Egypt or Nicaragua. Authoritarian leaders use fear to undermine democracy and insist on absolute power, as in Turkey

Another example of an authoritarian regime is an oligarchy, which is a government controlled by a small group, as opposed to the citizenry. Some have argued that the United States is more like an oligarchy, considering the power of the very wealthy to ensure the election of leaders who serve their own interests. About half of Congress are millionaires, while less than three and a half percent of Americans are. 

Authoritarianism in the United States

The current US presidential administration has provided several indications that we are experiencing an authoritarian regime, or the beginning of one. Donald Trump has praised authoritarian dictators the world over. In his praise of them he has acknowledged that he wants to be such a leader. He has expressed his desire for a military parade as is seen China or Russia. His supporters appreciate this attitude of dominance. Prior to his election legal scholars and others warned that his statements predicted an authoritarian rule. He has threatened the freedom of the press, protestors, and even a judge overseeing a case involving one of his business ventures. These threats begged some to question his respect for the rule of law. Trump’s suggestions that the president is the rule of law, as opposed to acknowledging a separation of powers, has led others to believe that he would act in unconstitutional ways. 

Since the 2016 election, we have seen many examples of authoritarian leadership. The Secretary of Education has rescinded protections for minority students. The Department of Justice has reduced efforts to reform policing and the criminal justice system. DOJ has also rolled back voting rights protections and increased efforts to deport as many immigrants as possible. Reported human rights abuses in immigration detainment camps are reminiscent of Nazis’ behavior. A lawsuit filed in May 2018 seeks to address the failure of the Department of Housing and Urban Development to enforce civil rights housing protections for minorities. The now-resigned head of the Environmental Protection Agency reversed a clean power plan in a move that benefits industry over citizens. 

The hope that the current administration’s authoritarian rule will disappear when Trump leaves office is diminished by his nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the empty spot on the Supreme Court left by Justice Kennedy’s retirement. Kavanaugh’s past rulings include judgements in favor of employers over employees (the few over the many). He has also argued that a sitting president should not be indicted, essentially arguing that the president is above the law. This is inherently undemocratic, as democracies require the rule of law for everyone. Kavanaugh also dissented in a case that allowed a 17 year old immigrant an abortion. Kavanaugh’s dissent argued that “the Government has permissible interests in favoring fetal life, protecting the best interests of a minor, and refraining from facilitating abortion,” which could signal a religious authoritarian perspective regarding reproductive rights. Further, it could signal an unwillingness to apply constitutional due process rights to those who are not citizens. This later position may violate the 14th amendment to the US constitution which states that the state shall not “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,” which includes undocumented immigrants. Assuming that Kavanaugh is confirmed by the Senate, he could contribute to an authoritarian bent in American law for a generation. 

The Preamble to US Constitution reads as follows: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The purpose of America’s form of government is clear: justice, peace, defense, the wellbeing of our citizens, freedom, and the ability to change over time in order to accomplish these goals. There is no room for an authoritarian rule in these goals. Authoritarianism has no place in American government. Those who would support military rule, deny election results, or deem some citizens as less equal than others would defy the US constitution and the values on which our country was founded. Our government was designed for citizen participation. When we fail to participate, we allow room for for authoritarianism.