Book review: The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno, a primary text of political correctness

The Authoritarian Personality by the Frankfurt School figure Theodor Adorno was a milestone in the medicalization of dissent, aside from considerably more aggressive efforts in the Soviet Union where Communists like him had unlimited power.  The dreadfully boring book was presented as a psychological treatise, wrapped in the cloak of science.  It contained some quizzes measuring various politically incorrect attitudes, particularly about Jews, Blacks, foreigners, and even “zootsuiters”.  The survey results were presented along with much Freudian commentary.  It was four decades before “political correctness” acquired its present ironic sense, but this is one of the places where the original cultural Marxists were codifying the basics as early as 1950.

Its theme is that there’s something wrong with people who have those opinions.  Calling someone crazy is a clever end run around actually having to debate their ideas.  The book alleges that these views result from neurosis.  It makes heavy use of Freudian catch-all stuff like repressed homosexuality and Daddy issues.  In fact, it’s so obsessively overdone that it seems like Adorno himself was a “closet case” who got too many spankings as a child.

This implies that it’s impossible that politically incorrect opinions might be reasoned perspectives.  Likewise, it dismisses the possibility that they result from any personal experience with multicultural conflicts, like bad behavior by the “vibrant” groups themselves.  (The Frankfurt School itself is a prime example of bad behavior; subverting the country that sheltered them during WWII constitutes epic ingratitude.)  The book’s message is that rightists are crazy and leftists are well-adjusted; QED.

All told, this was part of the Frankfurt School shtick of shouting down opponents. Debate is hard work, but cheating is easy!  Herbert Marcuse’s Repressive Tolerance was another example, where he built a leftist case for censorship.  That directly opposed freedom of speech, the greatest triumph of classical liberalism.  (I can see why Pinochet got impatient with characters like that.)  Anyway, modern political correctness doesn’t even need these justifications any more; it’s more like “I don’t care about the facts, and I don’t care if you’re right; you just can’t say that!”

I can remark about nutty leftists, of course, but I’ll also explain why they’re wrong.  Even so, Adorno’s efforts went well beyond the usual argumentum ad hominem tactics.  Under the mantle of scholarly authority, he reframed opinions he didn’t like as pathology, convinced people to take that notion seriously, and got it into college classes as a required textbook.  Over three decades after its publication, it was used at my alma mater in sociology classes, and probably still is there and at other universities.

The F-scale was the most famous of the book’s quizzes. Adorno ripped off the basic concept from a rather obscure 1938 paper by the psychologist Erich Rudolf Jaensch, “Der Gegentypus: psychologisch-anthropologische Grundlagen deutscher Kulturphilosophie, ausgehend von dem was wir überwinden wollen”.  According to the original idea, the confident, resolute, and decisive “J-type” personality is someone who Jaensch would’ve considered an upstanding citizen.  Meanwhile, the wishy-washy “S-type” was someone whose mind was so open that his brains fell out, possibly muddle-headed enough to hear colors.  That type Jaensch considered characteristic of Communists and other undesirables.  Okay, so that was a cheap shot.

Adorno didn’t bother to cite Jaensch. The closest he came to crediting him for the idea was to scold him tediously a couple times.  (That was rather petty.)  For a brief excerpt:

It is this motive which has been stressed particularly by Allport (9); and Boder has demonstrated in great detail in his study of “Nazi Science” the interconnections of psychological pro et contra schemes, the repressive function of categories such as Jaensch’s “Gegentypus” and the arbitrary manipulation of empirical findings (47).

Did I mention that this stuff is dreadfully boring? Consider it “The Banality of Cultural Marxism” if you will.  Also note well, The Authoritarian Personality engages in much repressive categorization and fuzzy science itself.

For the “F-scale” quiz, he inverted Jaensch’s original idea, the same cheap shot but in reverse. Still, Adorno added to the concepts here and there.  For example, other Fascist traits might include:

  • Growing up in a traditional family with a strong father;
  • Being concerned about morality; and
  • Irrationality (that’s way subtle, Comrade Adorno.)

Anyway, apparently I’m not a good Fascist because I understand the logical bifurcation fallacy and don’t believe in astrology. According to The Authoritarian Personality, someone too decisive, patriotic, manly, etc. is a dangerous no-goodnik. Meanwhile, Adorno promoted the idea that being a pussy is good. That’s pure, 24-karat Frankfurt School for you right there.

Consider all this an early forerunner of the “toxic masculinity” baloney being thrown around today. The cultural Marxists of today have gotten a little bolder with it. Those smart intellectuals in academia have declared that being masculine, a normative male trait, is something bad – toxic even! It’s still the same message: to be virtuous, you have to be a politically correct soy boy who couldn’t punch his way out of a wet paper bag.  Wimps of the world, unite!

Book review: The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno, a primary text of political correctness

7 thoughts on “Book review: The Authoritarian Personality by Theodor Adorno, a primary text of political correctness

  1. Luna says:

    I’m sorry, but I find it hard to take you seriously. The book starts out constantly droning on about how it is not actually describing what traits prove someone is a fascist, but rather what traits could possibly make them more predisposed to believing in their propaganda, as well as follow them should the political climate normalize the a fascist ideology. They describe it as ‘potential fascists’ and even then warn the reader that the ideas aren’t fully applicable and go on in great lengths how the study could be flawed. The only thing you’re right on is how it’s a bit boring, but only to the uninterested.

    You also seem to have no idea what toxic masculinity is about, just needed to throw that out there. I’d say you don’t like this book because you can vaguely see yourself being critiqued in it, but haven’t actually reflected on it yet. Another thing the book fully explains is how reflection on oneself is something explicitly necessary to avoid fascism, which is why your review is so comically ironic.


  2. The Frankfurt School marks an ideological turning point in which a number of positive traits about liberalism were abandoned. (James Tucker goes into greater detail about that at Seriously, those guys were bad news.

    To get specific, for one matter, The Authoritarian Personality in particular is highly pernicious because it takes a large range of opinions and attempts to pathologize them, using Freudian theory at its fuzziest as the basis for all that. Not only does it overturn the rule about not confusing the messenger with the message, it also provides at least a potential basis for literally locking up people for ideological reasons by deeming them crazy. That should be concerning to anyone of any ideological perspective.

    Other than that, “toxic masculinity” is just a fashionable polemical term. It’s a rather snotty one, since it suggests that an ordinary human trait is some kind of a toxin. As such, it doesn’t have a precise or accurate meaning any more than the phrase “homosexual poison” or “heteronormative poison”.

    Anyway, hopefully that clarifies things at least a bit. Cheers, and be well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.