definitions of Authoritarianism

Lynne hendersl at IX.NETCOM.COM
Mon Oct 28 14:43:24 PST 2002


MessageEugene, you ar eusing authoritairan in the thin sense--that is, the general assumption that laws should be obeyed.  That is not the concern here.
 Taking one issue and labeling it "authoritarian" or not misses the point I have been trying to make. That is , it is not authoritarian to support gun control or to clailm a strong individual right to own guns under the 2d amendment *standing alone.*  

 Many othe rmembers on this list have summarized far better than I the sequence of event s that led to the initial concern with an authoritarian turn in th eU.S.  Starting with a concerted effort throughout the presidency of a Democrat  to prove him a criminal culminating in impeachment, to all sorts of  discriminatory behaviors  in the Florida election (including pulling people from voting roles as "felons" even though they were not, intimidation, etc.))to a Republican court intervening in an electoral process seemingly committed by the constitution to Congress (sandy's observation that the Art. II analysis is pretty indefensible), to the labelling of anyone who disagrees with a certain set of beliefs and power relations as "left-leaning" or worse, to the refusal to provide information to Congress and a secret "energy commission", to the Bush Miliatary Order of Nov. 13, 2001 and secret detentions of persons, denial of habeas corpus even to U.S. citizens and an assertion of Presidential prerogative to determine if someone is a "terrorist" and detain her or him without review or even trial,  (the USA Patriot Act does *not* suspend the writ of habeas corpus, fo rexample, and specificlaly provides for judicial review) to the  allegations of disloyalty  any time a person  quesitons  a policy , to the Arkansas Republican poll-watchers turning away Black voters last week,  to the COurt's increasing insistence that Congress is subordinate to the Court, even when it comes to Congress's exercise of powers  explicitly granted it under section 5, and the Court's refusal to defer  to legislative fact-finding, that creates many reasons to be concerned about the concentration of authority in the Executive branch and 5 Supreme Court Justices.


Prof. Lynne Henderson
Boyd School of Law--UNLV
4505 Maryland Pkwy
Box 451003
Las Vegas, NV  89154
702-895-2625
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Volokh, Eugene 
  To: CONLAWPROF at listserv.ucla.edu 
  Sent: Monday, October 28, 2002 12:33 PM
  Subject: Re: definitions of Authoritarianism


      Interesting definition, but note how it turns entirely on what one sees as "the private rights and freedom of citizens."

      For example, are those who favor gun controls "authoritarian"?  Well, they often use "the Rule of Law to justify the need for obedience and control," they often use rhetoric about the NRA that is aimed at "foment[ing] suspicion and intolerance towards those seen as a threat" -- from the NRA (the "gun lobby") to "gun nuts," the "gun crazy," militia groups, and the like -- and emphasize the need to maintain "order" and "stability" by taking guns out of people's hands.

      And of course if the pro-gun-control forces are right (or at least right enough) on the merits, then *they might well be right to do so*.  If guns in private hands were really an unalloyed menace, then of course we should use the Rule of Law to justify the need for obedience towards gun controls.  It might even be proper to suggest that those who continue to insist on maintain the vast level of private arms in our society -- in the face of the strong evidence of how awful guns are, and how helpful gun controls would be -- should be viewed with suspicion and intolerance (though perhaps some excessive rhetoric would be improper even then).  And it would be quite right to suggest that gun controls should be favored because of the need for order and stability.  I disagree with the positions, because I disagree with the gun control movement of the merits.  But the term "authoritarian" adds nothing to the debate, and just ends up being a label one can use to fault those who you think are wrong on the merits.

      How about those who favor broad antidiscrimination laws?  They too often use "the Rule of Law to justify the need for obedience" towards antidiscrimination laws.  They certainly try to "foment suspicion and intolerance" towards those that they label as "racist" (and I should stress that those who are genuinely racist *should* be viewed with suspicion and intolerance).  And they suggest that racism threatens social stability, by exacerbating racial hostilities, and that we can better keep order and stability if we restrict people's ability to discriminate.  

      Does this make the supporters of these antidiscrimination laws "authoritarian"?  Few people on this list would say that this is so, I think, because they think that some laws should be obeyed, some controls are proper, some people should be viewed with suspicion and intolerance, and that the needs for order, predictability, and stability sometimes do justify restriction on people's behavior.  So "authoritarian" again ends up being a term not for people who meet certain objective, nonpartisan criteria -- such as the criteria mentioned before -- but as a rhetorical tool for attacking people whose views of "private rights and freedoms" you don't sure.

      Eugene

     -----Original Message-----
    From: Lynne [mailto:hendersl at IX.NETCOM.COM] 
    Sent: Monday, October 28, 2002 11:07 AM
    To: CONLAWPROF at listserv.ucla.edu
    Subject: Re: definitions of Authoritarianism




    SOme definitions that are useful, I believe, if one is concerned about creeping authoritarianism/recent trends: 
    "authoriarian/authoritarianism" in a thin sense can mean either a habitual or required obedience to authority (habitual was Arendt's interpretation), but it has meaning beyond that.  There is research on individuals and their orientatiion to authority --"the authoritarian personality" research, the authoritarianism scale on th eMMPI, etc. that grew out of concern with right-wing authoritarianism;  ironically, research into other forms appears to have been symied when funds dried up during the Cold War and researchers were seen as "too liberal"--see *The Altruistic Personality*, *Crimes of Obedience* for later research and development.

     Authoritarian political systems  are charactertized by "repression, intolerance, [and] encroachment on the private rights and freedoms of citizens, " in the name of control and order. "authoritarian goernments take various forms and use various mechanisms to assure state hegemony in society [ and  may tolerate some dissent, honor "democratic" forms, free speech, etc.  to some degree]. .  . such governments may depend on 'centralized executive control and coercion" and the need for command and obedience, " b ut oligarchies also can be authoritarian, , , , authoritarian governments seek to dominate 'by arresting, subverting, or destroying autonomous individual, collective, and institutional behavior."  Authoritarians use the Rule of Law to justify the need for obedience and control, to forment suspicion and intolerance towards those seen as a threat, and emphasize "order, predictability and stability." (footnotes ommitted, 66 Ind. LJ 396-97)

    THus it is a group of characterisitcs that is our concern, not an isolated act or controversial decision.


    Prof. Lynne Henderson
    Boyd School of Law--UNLV
    4505 Maryland Pkwy
    Box 451003
    Las Vegas, NV  89154
    702-895-2625
      ----- Original Message ----- 
      From: Volokh, Eugene 
      To: CONLAWPROF at listserv.ucla.edu 
      Sent: Monday, October 28, 2002 9:07 AM
      Subject: Re: Authoritarianism


              I appreciate Sandy's thoughtful post here, but I think it only helps highlight the difficulty with using the term "authoritarian," especially in the absence of any clear definition.

              If the original message that started this thread had described Bush as tending towards "authoritarianism in a way similar to Charles de Gaulle's," I think it would have yielded a *very* different reaction on the part of most observers, both from the Left and from the Right.  It might have produced an interesting discussion of its own, but quite a different one than we've had.

              This suggests to me that Sandy is using a definition of "authoritarianism" that has quite a different connotation (and perhaps even denotation) than the term often has.  For instance, as I mentioned before, my New Shorter Oxford defines "authoritarian" as "Favouring or characterized by obedience to (esp. political) authority as opp[osed] to personal liberty; tyrannical, dictatorial."  Now de Gaulle thought the French Presidency should be strong than some others thought, and perhaps than many of us might think (I'm just not sure); but I doubt that we'd call him "tyrannical" or "dictatorial" except as hyperbole, or with a great deal of qualification.

              Now I know there are indeed terms that have different meanings and connotations in technical discourse than they have in public discussion.  And in theory, we could agree on a definition of "authoritarian" that is (1) not highly pejorative, and (2) broad enough to include many people and actions that we wouldn't think are tyrannical or dictatorial.

              On the other hand, we also see that (1) the original use of the term on this thread did -- unless I am very much mistaken -- try to use the term in a highly pejorative way, rather than in the mild and descriptive way that Sandy suggested, and (2) we have yet to see in this thread any clear definition of "authoritarian."  That, I think, supports my view that "authoritarian" is not a terribly helpful label in this discussion, given how likely it is that it will mean very different things to different people, and how tainted it is with the highly pejorative connotation -- one that goes far beyond the actions of Charles de Gaulle -- that comes from its association with "tyrannical" and "dictatorial."

              Eugene 

      > -----Original Message----- 
      > From: Sanford Levinson [mailto:SLevinson at MAIL.LAW.UTEXAS.EDU] 
      > Sent: Thursday, October 24, 2002 2:52 PM 
      > To: CONLAWPROF at listserv.ucla.edu 
      > Subject: Re: Authoritarianism 
      > 
      > 
      > Mark Scarberry writes; 
      > 
      > >Jack's treatment of abuses of power by President Nixon as a GOP 
      > >phenomenon leads me to ask whether the previous Democratic 
      > president, 
      > >President Johnson, had a better record. Is there someone on the list 
      > >who has followed the recent scholarship on the Johnson 
      > presidency and 
      > >who would be willing to give us a brief response? 
      > 
      > 
      > Let's assume that Mark is absolutely right.  Might we not 
      > have an important discussion of the frequency with which 
      > presidents of the United States have adopted a variety of 
      > "authoritarian" postures and what this might tell us about 
      > the operating assumptions of the American system of 
      > government?  I presume that everyone would agree that Charles 
      > de Gaulle was quite "authoritarian" in his conception of the 
      > French presidency.  So perhaps we could do some comparative 
      > analysis and ask which of our presidents, including those 
      > termed "great" by at least some assessors, were at least as 
      > "authoritarian" as de Gaulle. 
      > 
      > sandy 
      > 

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