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Review
Reviewed Work(s): Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics by Marc J.
Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler
Review by: Sam McFarland
Source: Political Psychology, Vol. 32, No. 2 (April 2011), pp. 364-367
Published by: International Society of Political Psychology
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41262902
Accessed: 26-10-2016 04:25 UTC
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364

Book

the

Reviews

internment

war.

This book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in public atti
toward war, or toward foreign policy more generally. I recommend the p
of the book to all graduate students who wonder about how projects deve
how academic careers are shaped over time. But the preface made me wish
I could have read the book that Berinsky initially wanted to write - one th
devoted solely to public attitudes on World War II. The decision to incorp

insights from later conflicts is reasonable. It allows the book to have

larger intellectual scope and perhaps a wider market. But the dynamics o
tudes on later conflicts are well documented, and Berinsky' s data provide
unique insight into a war that is often described as exceptional. I often f
myself wishing that Berinsky had spent more time following up on intr
results in the World War II analysis in place of sections on the far better

mented later conflicts. But perhaps this is what we should want mos

academic book - to demolish some myths, to draw broader connections, a

leave us just as curious.
Clyde Wilcox
Georgetown University

Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics. By Marc J. Hetherington and Jonathan D. Weiler. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2009.

234 pp.
The central thesis in Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics

is as follows: A few visceral issues, for which authoritarianism "provides the

connective tissue" (p. 9), became salient in the 1990s and early 2000s. Because
these issues were adopted mainly by the Republican party, Americans since the
early 1990s have migrated increasingly from one party to the other depending on
their authoritarian or anti-authoritarian dispositions. Gay rights was the first issue,
but was followed by the war on terror (including support for foreign wars, torture,

and suppression of civil rights) and concerns over immigration.
Party realignments have occurred in the past, as around the New Deal in the
1930s and civil rights in the 1960s. The process begins when a previously dormant
issue becomes dominant, and the process generally takes 20 years. But since the
early 1990s, realignment has flowed along the dimension of authoritarianism,
which offers a general "worldview" that embraces all of the issues cited. The
authors present evidence that the American public is not more polarized, but is
"better sorted" (p. 195).

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Book

Reviews

Relying
through

and

the

on
nat
2004,
t

2008

through

lican,

365

P

2004,

and

h

then

gressed
in
the
s
authoritarianism
from
8
to
14.5

later
in
this
rev
2006
the
gap
be
candidates
was
demographic
an
identification
in

But

even
if
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of
the
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tarianism
into
t
pressed
to
take
authors
offer
s
hard-line
positi

tives

reform

bill

he

"conservative
D
the
past"
(p.
19
more
conservat
between

in

100

the

ave

years"

(

politics,
but
the
they
weave
a
ric
details.

Beyond

this

gen

tant
new
data
o
et
al.
(1950)
to
t
tarianism
as
roo
threat
has
been
to
hold
authorit
erington
and
W
low,
not
high,
a
authoritarians
s
rants)
preferred
war
(i.e.,
not
re
terrorist

attack
opposition
to
ga
lifestyles."
How

erties

and

rely

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366

Book

Reviews

linearly

close

related

examinat

authoritarianism.

The major issue for this reviewer is not the truth of the authors' thesis, but
whether the measure of authoritarianism used in these surveys is adequate to the
construct. In each survey, authoritarianism was assessed by a four-item measure of

child-rearing values. Pairs of qualities (e.g., "obedience" vs. "self-reliance"; "good
manners" vs. "curiosity") were presented, and respondents were asked to select
"the one you think is more important for a child to have." The first quality of each

pair indicates authoritarianism. Authoritarianism scores ranged from 0 to 1 in
increments of .125 (.25 is awarded for each authoritarian answer, .125 when two
qualities are rated equally). As every student of authoritarianism knows, for the last

three decades authoritarianism has been measured most commonly by versions of

Altemeyer's (1981) Right Wing Authoritarianism Scale (RWA). Stenner (2005),

who used a similar child-rearing measure, argued that "I hope the reader is
persuaded that something akin to the child-rearing values measure best reflects
fundamental predisposition to authoritarianism, and that the RWA scale ... is
better understood as a measure of authoritarian attitudes" (p. 82). Hetherington
and Weiler also note the advantage that this child-rearing measure is not confounded with contemporary political and social issues, a concern that has haunted
many studies using the RWA.
Nevertheless, this measure reduces the construct of authoritarianism to a
single facet and, by doing so, creates several concerns of its own. First, despite
Stenner' s (2005) argument, it is unclear why child-rearing values are more central
to authoritarianism than are domains such as concern over deviant sexuality,
punitiveness toward dissenters, or the tendency to want to solve all world problems

through the application of force. All of these have traditionally been associated
with authoritarianism, and more so than child-rearing values. Could not one of
these domains have been selected equally well for measuring authoritarianism? As
for authoritarianism theory, conventionalism, defined as "rigid adherence to conventional, middle-class values" and authoritarian aggression, the "tendency to be
on the lookout for, to condemn, reject, and punish people who violate conventional
values and mores" (Adorno et al., p. 228) have always been regarded as critical to
its definition. The child-rearing measure may capture conventionalism peripherally, but authoritarian aggression seems totally missing.
How can one miss the hostility and destructiveness that permeate authoritarianism, albeit guised under moral high-mindedness? The RWA items suggest that
society should "destroy," "get rid of," "put out of action," "smash," "eliminate,"
"crush," "silence," and "stomp out" those who violate conventional norms (Alte-

meyer, 1996, pp. 13-15). The original Adorno et al. (1950) Fascism Scale had
similar phrases. Perhaps it would suffice to know that this child-rearing measure
correlates highly with the RWA, that the items load on common factors, but this
information is not reported here or elsewhere.

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Book

Reviews

367

Actually,
by
us
alone,
H

attitudes

on

political

taneous

attit

regress

employment
pro
by
moral
tradit

to

live

threat

according
"ne

from

down
of
our
so
the
moral
trad
indices
of
auth
construct,
ing

each

opposition

to
anti-gay
policies
The
authoritari

pass.
If
threats

tarian

the
issue
recede,
t

polarizati
the
n

structure,

costs,

and

aligned

be

envi

with

replaced

aut
by
a

can voters even a decade from now.

REFERENCES

Adomo, T. W., Frenkel-Brunswick, D., Levinson, D., & Sanford, N. (1950). The autho
sonality. New York: Harper & Row.

Altemeyer, B. (1981). Right-wing authoritarianism. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba

Altemeyer, B. (1996). The authoritarian specter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Feldman, S. (2003). Enforcing social conformity: A theory of authoritarianism. Political
24,41-74.

Stenner, K. (2005). The authoritarian dynamic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sam McFarland

Western Kentucky University

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