The Right-Wing Id Unzipped
Source Dave Anderson
Date 12/02/17/23:32
The Right-Wing Id Unzipped
Mike Lofgren,

Although Mitt Romney used the word "conservative" 19 times in
a short speech at the February 10, 2012, Conservative
Political Action Conference, the audience he used this word
to appeal to was not conservative by any traditional
definition. It was right wing. Despite the common American
practice of using "conservative" and "right wing"
interchangeably, right wing is not a synonym for conservative
and not even a true variant of conservatism - although the
right wing will opportunistically borrow conservative themes
as required.

Right-wingers have occasioned much recent comment. Their
behavior in the Republican debates has caused even jaded
observers to react like an Oxford don stumbling upon a tribe
of headhunting cannibals. In those debates where the
moderators did not enforce decorum, these right-wingers, the
Republican base, behaved with a single lack of dignity. For a
group that displays its supposed pro-life credentials like a
neon sign, the biggest applause lines resulted from their
hearing about executions or the prospect of someone dying
without health insurance.

Who are these people and what motivates them? To answer, one
must leave the field of conventional political theory and
enter the realm of psychopathology. Three books may serve as
field guides to the farther shores of American politics and
the netherworld of the true believer.

Most estimates calculate the percentage of Republican voters
who are religious fundamentalists at around 40 percent; in
some key political contests, such as the Iowa caucuses, the
percentage is closer to 60. Because of their social cohesion,
ease of political mobilization and high election turnout,
fundamentalists have political weight even beyond their raw
numbers. An understanding of their leaders, infrastructure
and political goals is warranted. Max Blumenthal has done the
work in his book "Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement
that Shattered the Party." Blumenthal investigates
politicized fundamentalism and provides capsule bios of such
movement luminaries as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, John Hagee
and Ted Haggard. The reader will conclude that these
authority figures and the flocks they command are driven by a
binary, Manichean vision of life and a hunger for conflict.
Their minds appear to have no more give and take than that of
a terrier staring down a rat hole.

Blumenthal examines the childhoods of these religious-right
celebrities and reveals a significant quotient of physical
and mental abuse suffered at the hands of parents. His
analysis of the obvious sadomasochistic element in Mel
Gibson's films - so lionized by the right wing - is enough to
give one the creeps. But the book is by no means a uniformly
depressing slog: the chapter titled "Satan in a Porsche,"
about fundamentalist attempts to ban pornography, approaches

According to the author, the inner life of fundamentalist
true believers is the farthest thing from that of a stuffily
proper Goody Two Shoes. They seem tormented by demons that
those in the reality-based community scarcely experience.
That may explain their extraordinary latitude in absolving
their political and ecclesiastical heroes of their sins:
while most of us might regard George W. Bush as a dry drunk
resentful of his father, Newt Gingrich as a sociopathic
serial adulterer and Ted Haggard as a pathetic specimen in
terminal denial, their followers on the right apparently
believe that the greater the sin, the more impressive the
salvation - so long as the magic words are uttered and the
penitent sinner is washed in the Blood of the Lamb. This
explains why people like Gingrich can attend "values voter"
forums and both he and the audience manage to keep straight
faces. Far from being a purpose-driven life, the existence of
many true believers is a crisis-driven life that seeks
release, as Blumenthal asserts, in an "escape from

An observer of the right-wing phenomenon must explain the
paradox of followers who would escape from freedom even as
they incessantly invoke the word freedom as if it were a
mantra. But freedom so defined does not mean ordinary civil
liberties like the prohibition of illegal government search
and seizure, the right of due process, or the right not to be
tortured. The hard right has never protested the de facto
abrogation of much of the Bill of Rights during the last
decade. In the right-wing id, freedom is the emotional
release that a hostile and psychologically repressed person
feels when he is finally able to lash out at the objects of
his resentment. Freedom is his prerogative to rid himself of
people who are different, or who unsettle him. Freedom is
merging into a like-minded herd. Right-wing alchemy
transforms freedom into authoritarianism.

Robert Altemeyer, a Canadian psychologist, has done extensive
testing to isolate and describe the traits of the
authoritarian personality. His results are distilled in his
book "The Authoritarians." He describes religious
fundamentalists, the core of the right-wing Republican base,
as follows:

"They are highly submissive to established authority,
aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to
the point of insisting everyone should behave as their
authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and
have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct
toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily
led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely
impervious to facts and reason and rely instead on social
support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty
to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly
compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in
their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times and
are often hypocrites."

There are tens of millions of Americans who, although
personally lacking the self-confidence, ambition and
leadership qualities of authoritarian dominators like
Gingrich or Sarah Palin, nevertheless empower the latter to
achieve their goals while finding psychological fulfillment
in subordination to a cause. Altemeyer describes these
persons as authoritarian followers. They are socially rigid,
highly conventional and strongly intolerant personalities,
who, absent any self-directed goals, seek achievement and
satisfaction by losing themselves in a movement greater than
themselves. One finds them overrepresented in reactionary
political movements, fundamentalist sects and leader cults
like scientology. They are the people who responded on cue
when Bush's press secretary said after the 9/11 attacks that
people had better "watch what they say;" or who approved of
illegal surveillance because "if you have nothing to hide,
you have nothing to fear;" or who, after months of news
stories saying that no weapons of mass destruction had been
found in Iraq, nevertheless believed the weapons were found.
Altemeyer said:

"Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American
population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so
self-righteous, so ill-informed and so dogmatic that nothing
you can say or do will change their minds. They would march
America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had
improved as a result.... And they are so submissive to their
leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they
are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going

Twenty to 25 percent is no majority, but enough to swing an
election, especially since the authoritarian follower is more
easily organized than the rest of the population. As for
Altemeyer's warning that such personality types "are not
going away," the rise of the Tea Party after 2008 showed that
he was a better prognosticator than Max Blumenthal, who
thought the radical takeover of the GOP during the Bush
presidency had "shattered the party."

Altemeyer cites clinical data to show us how certain people
score high on psychological tests measuring authoritarian
traits and that these high scores strongly correlate with
right-wing political preferences. What Altemeyer is lacking
is a satisfactory explanation as to why a significant
percentage of human beings should develop these traits. We
obtain some clues in Wilhelm Reich's "The Mass Psychology of
Fascism," written in 1933 and unfortunately only obtainable
in a stilted 1945 translation full of odd psychological
jargon. One does not have to agree with Reich's questionable
later career path and personal eccentricities(1) to notice
that his 1933 work is a perceptive analysis of the character
of the authoritarian political movements that were rising in
Europe. Anyone reading it then and taking it seriously could
have predicted the new totalitarian regimes' comprehensive
repressiveness, extreme intolerance and, within a few years,
nihilistic destructiveness.

Reich appears to see fascism as the political manifestation
of an authoritarian psychology. Who are the authoritarians?

"Fascist mentality is the mentality of the subjugated 'little
man' who craves authority and rebels against it at the same
time. It is not by accident that all fascist dictators stem
from the milieu of the little reactionary man. The captains
of industry and the feudal militarist make use of this social
fact for their own purposes. A mechanistic authoritarian
civilization only reaps, in the form of fascism, from the
little, suppressed man what for hundreds of years it has sown
in the masses of little, suppressed individuals in the form
of mysticism, top-sergeant mentality and automatism."

Here again we see the paradoxical nature of the authoritarian
personality: rebelling against authority while hungering for
it - exactly as the contemporary right wing fancies it is
rebelling against big government while calling for intrusive
social legislation and militarism. In the midst of dire
economic circumstances, why do they expend inordinate energy
brooding over contraception, abortion, abstinence education,
gay marriage and so forth and attempt to transform their
obsessions into law? Reich said:

"The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place
through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and sexual
anxiety.... The result of this process is fear of freedom and
a conservative, reactionary mentality. Sexual repression aids
political reaction not only through this process which makes
the mass individual passive and unpolitical but also by
creating in his structure an interest in actively supporting
the authoritarian order. The suppression of natural sexual
gratification leads to various kinds of substitute
gratifications. Natural aggression, for example, becomes
brutal sadism which then is an essential mass-psychological
factor in imperialistic wars."

According to Reich, a patriarchal, sexually repressive family
life, reinforced by strict and punitive religious dogma, is
the "factory" of a reactionary political order. Hence, the
right wing's ongoing attempts to erase the separation of
church and state, its crusade against Planned Parenthood, its
strange obsession with gays. Consider the following political
platform, which sounds almost as if it were taken from a
speech by Rick Santorum:

"The preservation of the family with many children is a matter
of biological concept and national feeling. The family with
many children must be preserved ... because it is a highly
valuable, indispensable part of the ... nation. Valuable and
indispensable not only because it alone guarantees the
maintenance of the population in the future but because it is
the strongest basis of national morality and national culture
... The preservation of this family form is a necessity of
national and cultural politics ... This concept is strictly
at variance with the demands for an abolition of paragraph
218; it considers unborn life as sacrosanct. For the
legalization of abortion is at variance with the function of
the family, which is to produce children and would lead to
the definite destruction of the family with many children."

So wrote the Völkischer Beobachter of October 14, 1931. As
Altemeyer warns, they are not going away: certain
psychological constructs and the political expressions they
give rise to, persist over time and across cultures.

1. E.g., Isaac Newton's eccentricities and unpleasant
personality did not invalidate his mathematics. We are
interested in the message not the messenger.

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