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123 of 132 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read It in Good Conscience, August 1, 2006
This review is from: Conservatives Without Conscience (Hardcover)
In "Conservatives Without Conscience," author John Dean makes the observation that seemingly good people will do unconscionable even criminal acts, and put their consciences aside without guilt. Dean wants to know why, and he provides a hypothesis to explain why some will lead people in this direction, and explain why others are willing to follow them.

The author may be well-suited for such a task. As White House Counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, and an admitted Barry Goldwater conservative, he was surrounded by the Watergate Investigation, in which White House staffers conducted burglary, perjury, obstruction of justice, and other crimes, or knew of them, or concealed them, all in the name of their leader, Richard Nixon.

John Dean relies heavily on the work of a social psychologist, Dr. Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba, who has done much work on the theory of authoritarianism. According to Dean, Altemeyer's work in this area has been officially recognized, and he is considered an expert in the field.

Dr Altemeyer categorizes authoritarians as followers and leaders to varying degrees. What he also found was that authoritarians are likely to maintain certain beliefs about themselves which include a deep belief in God, patriotic, conservative, and see themselves as being more moral, ethical, honest, and better people than others in general. Their behavior however, is likely to be less honest, loyal or ethical than others.

Dean attempts to apply this to our modern day politicians of whom he is very selective. He finds a match between Altemeyer's theories and list of traits in people like Dick Cheney whom he contends is the real president, George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Bill Frist, Tom Delay and others.

The author provides plenty of anecdotal evidence to support his hypothesis: the president's signing statements, the secret meetings that are withheld from the public because of national security, George Bush's comments: "A dictatorship wouldn't be bad, just so long as I'm the dictator," or "I'm the decider." Newt Gingrich's ability to discard friends once he no longer finds them useful, and of course, Tom Delay who changed the rules of congress, where subterfuge and heavy-handed tactics have replaced debate, discussion, and compromise.

Because of the abiding belief in their leaders, authoritarian followers will put their scruples aside, for the greater good. Examples of these followers were: Attorney General, John Mitchell, G. Gordon Liddy, Paul Ehrichman, H.R. Haldeman, and Charles Colson during the Nixon administration. According to Dean, their modern day counterparts are members of Congress, cabinet secretaries who serve at the pleasure of the president, and millions of others who believe that patriotic Americans are leading them.

The reader should keep in mind that the author is attempting to prove a thesis here but offers no scientific evidence. It does not prove that all the people described earlier fit neatly in this authoritarian theory, nor can it explain their behavior with any certainty.

The one part of this book that is unquestionable is Dean's assertion that Americans must participate in their democratic form of government if it is to succeed. It cannot be simply observed or ignored. If it is, authoritarians will pick it up and take it away. Dean warns that we haven't lost it yet, but we are losing it day by day.

I recommend this book (after the first chapter) because it provided another way for me to look at family members and acquaintances whose rabid or knee-jerk loyalty for anything conservative I could not explain.

At least, now I have an explanation.
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 6, 2010 3:59:04 AM PST
Sparrow says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2010 4:16:22 PM PST
Larsen says:
What seems to be frequently the case with right wingers is certainly present here. Sparrow's prose reflects elementary grammatical and spelling errors. Yes, we're not supposed to notice what the writer was oblivious to--so impolite!--but it's hard to take seriously an opinion wrapped up in the following ugliness: (1) "way to many" (2) "demagoguery" wrongly capitalized (3) no capital R in "right" (4) drivel misspelled as "drival." Actually, it's a thoughtful, well-written book, and though it's hardly beyond criticism, attacking it as "pure drival" is revealing in ways the writer will surely never understand.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 20, 2010 5:28:55 PM PST
R. Broun,

I will have to take your word for what Sparrow wrote. I started ignoring his posts weeks ago, with no regrets. His comments are angry which shows immaturity, and I'm sure his comment here was equally unprofound and unmemorable. He's just someone who attempts to antagonize or insult. Luckily, I consider the source.

Posted on Dec 3, 2010 9:20:49 AM PST
David Cox says:
The thesis was already proved in over 1,000 experiment ran by numerous sociologist like Robert Altemeyer, Theodor Adorno, David Scheider, Kenneth Minogue etc.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2010 1:45:37 PM PST
He mentions Altemeyer, Adorno, and Milgram frequently.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 5, 2011 8:49:06 AM PDT
Marina says:
It's NOT about the left or the right. It's about the Secret Government that uses these parties as so much puppet theater. Read www.thehiddenevil.com by Mark M. Rich. We no longer have an elected government AT ALL -- as the total continuity of Bush's and Obama's financial and military policies proves. Congress is irrelevant. We have a Corporate Fascist State pillaging the US Treasury and using our military to grab foreign oil.

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 5, 2011 1:00:48 PM PDT
While I agree with you that we are a plutocracy, the book is about left and right.

Posted on Aug 23, 2011 12:23:04 PM PDT
Just a few comments

Bush's actual quote was "You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be easier". It was BEFORE he was President, while he was governor of Texas, and he was referring to the fact that in a democracy it can be difficult to get what you want NOT that he wanted to be a dictator.

Second, I must quibble with the notion that authoritarians have a deep belief in God, are patriotic, conservative and see themselves as being moral, ethical, honest, and better people than others in general. Some of the biggest authoritarians just in the 20th century - Hitler, Lenin, Stalin - did not believe in God and most certainly were not conservative.

Posted on Aug 23, 2011 4:17:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 22, 2012 8:52:05 PM PDT
Hi Ed,

It's possible that this comment is a duplication from another of your reviews, but the link to the book, "The Authoritarians," by Robert Altemeyer is _ http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey

There are other essays linked on the same page. The whole book is available for free download, a 1.35 mb PDF document. Amazon hates stuff like that. HA! I say.

He is quite the expert on why intelligent people follow the orders of leaders even when it is contrary to common sense and all internal controls.

Best always,

Coach Jim

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 23, 2011 4:27:12 PM PDT
Yes, D. Reed, you are partially right. He uttered these comments while he was governor. As to what he said, it depends on which time he said it.

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier." Describing what it's like to be governor of Texas.
(Governing Magazine 7/98)

-- From Paul Begala's "Is Our Children Learning?"

"I told all four that there are going to be some times where we don't agree with each other, but that's OK. If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator," Bush joked.

-- CNN.com, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it, " [Bush] said.

-- Business Week, July 30, 2001

* * *

Take your choice.
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