By Armando Chaguaceda
HAVANA TIMES – There are clear signs worldwide of a shift towards conservative politics and they generally suggest that liberalism – in its free market economic form and its most tolerant and inclusive political strain – has been discredited in the eyes of wide swathes of the population. Including important voting groups, seduced by neo populist, oligarchic and xenophobic leaderships such as those represented by Donald Trump and his allies in the Old Continent. However, the authoritarian shift of the Right is the mirror of its opposite, which credits and redefines it.
What can be said then about the projects that are firmly rooted in socialist rhetoric, for example? The legacy of State-centered communism, with its deficits of economic development, environmental sustainability and political democracy, has been replicated by some experts of anti-neoliberalism in the 21st century. Emblematically represented on this continent by the Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan autocracies. But also, by those who defend them, from the bosom of open societies and academies where the right of freedom of teachers and university autonomy rules.
The reality is that while the academic world and public opinion talk a lot about right-wing authoritarianism (Trump, Orban, Bolsonaro), the same thing doesn’t happen with its left-wing counterpart. Answering this pending matter, a team of psychologists carried out a rigorous study about antidemocratic attitudes of the US electorate. With a survey administered to over 7,000 citizens, the team proved that such attitudes exist across the entire ideological spectrum (1). If a similar survey were carried out in other countries – including Cuba – the result would surely be very similar.
Researchers identified common features of right-wing and left-wing authoritarianisms. They share a preference for uniformity, united in their prejudice and punishment of the other. As well as the will to exercise group authority to restrict individual behavior, accompanied by inflexible mindsets, and connected to an excessive concern for hierarchy and moral absolutism. The survey’s authors concluded that authoritarian thinking triggers a similar impulse in both left-wing and right-wing extremists to discipline their supporters, aggressively censoring their critics and opponents, as well as favoring an absolutist and vertical leadership.
Nevertheless, the study also reveals certain differences between left-wing and right-wing authoritarians. The former is more receptive to science than the latter, who are generally closer to religion. Plus, left-wing authoritarians normally like to undertake new endeavors: they are revolutionaries, instead of conservatives.The survey suggests not favoring judgements on the antidemocratic attitudes and values of their subjects. Experts say that psychologically speaking, authoritarianism always trumps ideology.
In addition to painting a picture of the present, the study opens up a debate about how left-wing authoritarianism has been underestimated so much, and for so long. A response to this situation lies in the nature of an intellectual and university world where prevailing attitudes are more left-wing than society. I’m not just talking about left-handed radicals. We’re also talking about the democratic progressive world, that supports matters that are traditionally associated with the Left – such as wage redistribution or the fight against discrimination -, that also has problems recognizing and rejecting authoritarians from its ideological family. Thereby turning a blind eye to the ideas and attitudes of their cannibalistic relatives.
Originally spaces for cultivating knowledge, debate and social critique, universities have been leaning towards an ideological pole for a long time now. A tendency that has been growing in recent times, at least in the West: limiting opportunities for expression and to debate different political ideologies (2). A bias that directly affects the structure of building and seeking knowledge and the plural self-image of society that give shelter to these universities.
There aren’t good and bad authoritarianism: nor are they the exclusive heritage of one world view or another (3). Meanwhile, researchers’ political culture influences the questions they ponder and the selection of theories they use to understand the world, the ruling ideological guidance – of the Left – has limited the scope of academic research about authoritarianism. At least on the radical strain that, dressed up in pretty promises of reconciliation, stirs as much intolerance and oppression as their reactionary right-wing counterparts.
- Thomas H. Costello, Shauna M. Bowes, Sean T. Stevens, Irwin D. Waldman, Arber Tasimi, Scott O. Lilienfeld, Clarifying the Structure and Nature of Left-wing Authoritarianism, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, American Psychological Association, 2021
- Norris, Pippa, Closed Minds? Is a ‘Cancel Culture’ Stifling Academic Freedom and Intellectual Debate in Political Science?, August 3, 2020, HKS Working Paper No. RWP20-025.
- Sobre este particular, Kozak, Gisela and Chaguaceda, Armando (editores), La izquierda como autoritarismo en el siglo XXI, CADAL/Universidad de Guanajuato/Centro de Estudios Constitucionales Iberoamericanos. AC/Universidad Central de Venezuela. Buenos Aires, 2019 and Chaguaceda, A & Duno, L. (editores), La derecomo autoritarismo en el siglo XXI, CADAL/Centro de Estudios Constitucionales Iberoamericanos AC/Rice University, Buenos Aires, 2020.