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The friendly(?) fascists

October 9, 2017

It is a mistake to think that authoritarian regimes necessarily rely on an large segment of mean or vicious people for their support. Closer to the truth is that the mass of those who supported the Italian fascists, the Spanish phalangists, Pinochet, and other authoritarians were quite normal people whom we would welcome as our neighbors, employees, merchants, doctors, and maybe, even as our friends. Unless politics came between that. An authoritarian movement appeals to perfectly ordinary traits: respect for traditional things, desire to be buffered from change and those who might cause it, a sense of sanctity and propriety, and a desire for restoration. Those more susceptible to the appeal of those can be good people to know personally. Traits that might seem in tension philosophically often aren’t in practice. People can be simultaneously more agreeable, with their friends and community, and less open to those they view with suspicion. Those more prickly on the personal front may nonetheless understand the value of immigrants. So it’s interesting that researchers from Cambridge and the University of Texas find in the US a geographic distribution of psychological traits that has fair correspondence to its political divide. (Original paper here, as pdf.)

Of course, those tensions can bubble to the surface. Erick Erickson, one of the very conservative stalwarts of RedState before it was sold, discovered how much that is so, when he refused to support Trump:

A woman in my wife’s Bible study group said that she and her friends wanted to punch me in the face.

Erickson wants to defuse that polarization. As does George Yancey. Both recommend personal dialogue. I’m skeptical that will make much difference. If acquaintances in a Bible study group can’t talk, who can? And what can be said that isn’t said or written a hundred times over, in this media age?

Trump plans to use the dreamers as a bargaining chip to turn us into fortress America. That should appall every American who cares about liberty. Never bargain with authoritarians. Fight them.

Update: From last year, Kelly Baker writes on how ethnographers handle this dichotomy.


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