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Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 858-0000972276
ISBN-10: 052171124X
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Editorial Reviews


"What makes this book genuinely impressive is that it remains grounded at all times in hard empirical evidence while simultaneously advancing provocative arguments about America's political conflicts (including a certain-to-be-controversial chapter devoted to the role which authoritarianism played in the Clinton/Obama war)...I really recommend this book..."
-Glenn Greenwald, Salon.com

"Hetherington and Weiler's Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics breaks new ground in the debate about the nature of polarization in the American public and in so doing reinvigorates the study of authoritarianism. This is an important and compelling work that will be of interest to all students of American politics."
-Edward G. Carmines, Indiana University

"The once-dormant concept of authoritarianism has seen a rebirth in recent years, as scholars have begun to appreciate fully its explanatory power. Nowhere has this power been analyzed more thoughtfully than in Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, where Hetherington and Weiler argue persuasively that the evolving political landscape, whose topography is often shaped by visceral issues such as race, crime, feminism, sexual orientation, immigration, and terrorism, is the inevitable result of the clashing and irreconcilable worldviews of individuals with, and without, authoritarian belief systems, who simply think about the world in fundamentally different, and polarized, ways. Perhaps the most important contribution of this book, however, is the insight that authoritarianism does not explain everything political; conditions sometimes arise that cause people with different worldviews to see the world the same way. After 9/11 a large proportion of Americans supported torture, wiretapping, and preemptive war. These were not fringe positions taken only by hard-core authoritarians. Rather, the authors show that reasonable people want to feel safe, too, and will support a strong hand when they feel threatened. This book will be central to our understanding of the roots and ramifications of post-9/11 politics."
-Jon Hurwitz, University of Pittsburgh

"This book tackles two of the most fundamental problems in the study of contemporary American politics -- the polarization of the electorate and the role, if any, of ideology in directing the political choices of ordinary citizens. It brings an entirely new light to both by bringing into view the deep psychological roots of political belief and behavior. It is a work of exceptional reach and vision."
-Paul Sniderman, Stanford University

"Where political science has a long tradition of seeing political conflict through the lens of 'issues' debates about public policy, Hetherington and Weiler see the fundamental sorting process as instead a matter of personality. For them the new defining reality of American politics is a choice between authoritarian and non-authoritarian styles of reacting. The widely noted polarization of American politics is from their viewpoint a polarization between people, some of whom hold a worldview where issues are simple, choices black and white, and tradition a reliable guide to action, and others who prefer complexity, nuance, and change. Because these differences of worldview involve cherished symbols, they produce a party politics of deadlock."
-James A. Stimson, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Book Description

A scholarly controversy has raged over whether ordinary Americans are polarized. This book argues that they are because the left and right are increasingly divided by an overarching worldview that guides people's view of right and wrong. This divide is rooted in authoritarianism, causing especially contentious political conflict.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (August 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052171124X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521711241
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book's a total eye-opener in so many different ways. I spend time with people from a wide range of political and religious and work backgrounds, and find the Myers-Briggs personality characteristics of Judging vs Perceiving seems to explain a lot about how people react differently to the same situations. I often wondered what results you would get if someone measured how much the two political parties and different religious groups and denominations draw more people with either judging or perceiving personality types (Republicans/Democrats, evangelical Christians, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and unaffiliated/secular types, etc). If you're not familiar with Myers-Briggs personality types, judging types tend to reach decisions more quickly and see things in more black-and-white terms, while perceiving types are more likely to take time to make decisions, gather more evidence first, and aren't troubled by complexity and uncertainty. The best I could find when I tried an online search last year was some paper written by an undergrad who hardly looked at the judging/perceiving dimension of Myers-Briggs.

Yet even though I was primed to agree with their conclusions, I was blown away by just how strongly authoritarian/non-authoritarian personality types explain voting behavior.

I tend to view "trust" first and foremost in terms of honesty, accuracy, and telling the truth. So it baffled me how some candidates for the nomination in 2016 who score the very worst on PolitiFact fact checks would receive far more votes or consistently do better in polls than their opponents. My built-in assumption was that Americans will trust candidates who makes mostly accurate statements and distrust candidates who tell them lots of big whoppers.
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Format: Paperback
I can say for myself why this book is so important, but I will just quote form Nicholas Kristoff's
recent column about the book:

The book establishes "a fascinating framework of the role of personality types in politics, explored in a recent book, "Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics," by two political scientists, Marc J. Hetherington of Vanderbilt University and Jonathan D. Weiler of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They start by exploring data showing a remarkably strong correlation between state attitudes toward spanking children and voting patterns. Essentially, spanking states go Republican, while those with more timeouts go Democratic.

Professors Hetherington and Weiler contend that the differences stem from profound differences in cognitive styles. Spankers tend to see the world in stark, black-and-white terms, perceive the social order as vulnerable or under attack, tend to make strong distinctions between "us" and "them," and emphasize order and muscular responses to threats. Parents favoring timeouts feel more comfortable with ambiguities, sense less threat, embrace minority groups -- and are less prone to disgust when they see a man eating worms."

So we have worldviews about many things, which means that how we raise our children maps on to
our political views. This is a very important explanation about the differences between red and
blue states.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Because I'm working on a book in the area of personality and politics, one of the criteria on which I based my selection of this book came from one of its reviews indicating it addressed personality dimensions in relation to political orientation. It doesn't. While the book does center around the construct of authoritarianism, the authors emphasize that they are addressing authoritarianism as a worldview and attitude--not a dimension of personality. Perhaps the reviewer missed that distinction, although it can be an important one, depending on one's motivation for selecting this book. This is not to criticize the perspective the authors have chosen to take (they are political scientists and not psychologists), but to clarify how they approach authoritarianism. (In terms of dimensions of personality, you may want to do a little research on "The Big Five." These are probably the most "popular" personality dimensions within the psychology community. Some of these dimensions may be alluded to in the book, but only by inference. Wikipedia has a decent summary of them.)

Another useful attribute of the book for potential readers is its tone. While academic in nature, it hardly requires a PhD to understand the authors premises. But it also does not have the popular appeal of say Twenge and Campbell's "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement." Assertions are invariably referenced which may be a drag for some readers but a boon for others.

Given the political climate in which we (Americans) currently live, this book provides a useful framework (authoritarianism) for understanding what's going on--at least from a social if not an individual level.
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Format: Paperback
For people wondering about the popularity of Trump and Cruz, I point them to this book and "The Authoritarians" by Altemeyer which is available free online. For anyone else, I also believe that they should read these books. The largest empire, whose military alone produces 5% of global emissions, is nominally at least still a democracy. A conversation about American politics without understanding authoritarianism is unlikely to be productive.
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