Political Parties (Part Two): The Factions Within The Factions

(This article presents personal research, a review of relevant literature, and my hypotheses. It includes links to all sources used, but it has not been “peer-reviewed” itself. I am posting it to provoke thought and further research.)

Studies of authoritarian personalities have provided considerable insight into the conflicting political factions of “Conservatives” and “Liberals.” There also appear to be identifiable factions within these factions, with their own distinguishable value priorities. Thus, the major political political factions themselves experience internal conflict.

As I mentioned in another essay, the concept and measurement of the “authoritarian personality” began in 1950. Both the concept and measurement were later refined by Bob Altemeyer, beginning at least in 1981. His research repeatedly found that there were individuals with personalities that included (1) a high degree of submission to established authorities in their society, (2) high levels of aggression in the name of their authorities, and (3) high levels of conventionalism. Altemeyer called these individuals “Right-Wing Authoritarians,” or “RWAs.” In 1996, Altemeyer found that RWAs also got high positive scores on personality scales for “Religious Fundamentalism,” “Self-Righteousness,” “Traditionalism,” “Dangerous World” belief, “Conformity,” and “Need for Structure.” The implication was that RWAs tended to be religious fundamentalists who saw the world as dangerous and themselves as “righteous.” They were conformists who needed structure, and they valued the maintenance of traditional ideas and norms.

Pursuing a different concept, psychologists Felicia Pratto, Jim Sidanius, Lisa M. Stallworth, and Bertram F. Malle announced in 1994 that they had found another personality complex with political implications: the “Social Dominance Orientation.” They had theorized that there were individuals who, based on their personality, would “favor social practices that maintain or exacerbate inequality among groups and will oppose social practices that reduce group inequality.” Between 1990 and 1992, they gave a battery of personality tests to almost 2,000 college students and found that, indeed, there was such a thing as a Social Dominance Orientation [“SDO”]. They also found that this SDO had significant positive associations with support for capitalism (which legitimizes economic inequality), nationalism, racism, cultural elitism, support for the military and support for wars of dominance (i.e., not for “humanitarian” wars).

Altemeyer read their work, and in his 1996 study of RWAs he also subjected SDOs to popular personality tests. He found that SDOs had their strongest association with the value of Power, which Shalom Schwartz defined as the value of “Social status and prestige, control or dominance over people and resources.” Altemeyer also found small but statistically significant relationships between RWAs and SDOs, indicating that the two political orientations could overlap in some areas: both RWAs and SDOs were substantially associated with ethnocentrism and prejudice against homosexuals, Blacks and women. However, Altemeyer found that RWAs were more strongly associated with religious fundamentalism, self-righteousness and traditionalism than SDOs. SDOs, on the other hand, were more strongly associated with value of power than RWAs.

This simultaneous overlap and distinction could explain why the “Conservative” faction, the one seeking to “conserve” the status quo, is commonly seen as having two distinguishable sub-factions: those concerned with maintaining the established, traditional culture (especially religious) and those concerned with maintaining the established power hierarchies (capitalist and supremacist). Some individuals will have a political orientation that combines the two, but many more will favor one or the other. The result is a somewhat conflicted alliance.

It’s my hypothesis that a similar phenomenon occurs within the “Liberal” faction, the “Anti-Authoritarians.”

In Bob Altemeyer’s 1996 study, there were two values found to have significantly negative associations with RWA and SDO orientations: “Self-Direction,” which Shalom Schwartz defines as “independent, autonomous thought and action;” and “Universalism,” which Shalom Schwartz defines as “Understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.” Moreover, the negative association with “Self-Direction” was stronger for RWAs than for SDOs, while the negative association with “Universalism” was stronger for SDOs than for RWAs.

It struck me that these results suggested who was at the opposite ends of the RWA and SDO scales. High RWAs strive to maintain traditional rules as the basis for authority. Their opposites would be people who were “self-directed,” willing to entertain new rules and decide for themselves which rules had legitimate authority. I call it a “Self-Guided Orientation,” or “SGO” (so as not to have two “SDOs”). On the other hand, high SDOs strive to establish and maintain superiority for themselves and/or their identity groups as the basis for authority. Their opposites would be “universalists,” people oriented toward “understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature.” As discussed by Felicia Pratto et al., such individuals are more oriented toward social equality, altruism, tolerance, and empathy toward individuals who are not like them. I call this political orientation a “Holistic Welfare Orientation,” or “HWO.” If HWOs are oriented politically towards equality and protection for the welfare of all people, I think it’s fair to surmise that HWOs peceive legitimate authority as deriving from consensus and common benefit.

Given Altemeyer’s discovery that RWAs and SDOs can overlap in some areas, it’s my hypothesis that SGOs and HWOs can overlap as well. However, just like RWAs and SDOs, these two political orientations retain distinguishable value priorities. They can and do form an “anti-authoritarian” alliance against the status quo, seeking changes from tradition and greater equality in power relationships. But, like the “authoritarian” alliance, the “anti-authoritarian” alliance will experience internal conflict, due to the differing value priorities of SGOs and HWOs. I think this is why organizing Liberals has been compared to herding cats: many of us (I include myself) are independent thinkers, we make up our own minds, we don’t automatically follow a designated leader. I think that’s why, in 2016, Bernie could ask his supporters to vote for Hillary, but those with high SGO didn’t automatically oblige. If you have a high SGO, you’ll want to make up your own mind, regardless of what someone else says. And you could come to a different conclusion.

EDUCATION: B.A., Master’s Degree in Sociology. Interested in Sociology, Political Science, Political Psychology, Political Philosophy, Archaeology and History.