Wednesday, March 18, 2015


If the public has to rely on authority figures to tell them what countries are authoritarian and why they may not recognize it in their own country until it is too late.

This has happened in many counties including Germany under Hitler and USSR under Stalin; it would be foolish to automatically assume it can’t happen in the USA without understanding the basic principles of how authoritarianism develops.

Usually when many people think of authoritarianism they think of the most brutal dictators without thinking about how they got that way. This didn’t happen overnight and these authoritarians couldn’t rule without the cooperation of the people that follow them.

There are some exceptions but they don’t receive nearly as much attention as they could and should. Most credible psychologists agree that long term patterns of behavior start early in childhood and evolve from there. Authoritarianism is no exception whether it is those that are following orders or giving them or in many cases both. The researchers that have done the best job, that I know of, addressing how this applies to authoritarianism include Alice Miller and Philip Greven (some work from each is cited below). There are many more researchers that agree that child abuse leads to more violent behavior as adults, including domestic violence and paranoia but few of them do as good a job addressing how it leads to authoritarianism. There are also more researchers that address other aspects of authoritarianism but few that address how it starts. When children are abused they are much more likely to be raised in an authoritarian manner. Both Greven and Miller have explored how when children are “educated” by using corporal punishment to teach them right from wrong as well as to teach them the difference between accurate beliefs and false beliefs they learn to believe what they’re told whether it makes sense or not.

This often starts before they even learn how to talk. In one instance Greven cites Larry Christenson who says “The bible… does not say ‘children obey your parents when they are right’ it says ‘obey your parents in the lord, for this is right’- even when they are wrong! (see Ephesians 6;1) the child who obeys a ‘wrong’ command will still bask in the light of Gods approval.” He also cites Roy Lessin who says “A parent’s directive does not have to be reasonable to be obeyed.” Another quote from Sarah Edwards says “that until a child will obey his parents, he can never be brought to obey God.” All these Christian educators recommend using corporal punishment to “teach” the child to obey and in many cases this is the same method they use to teach them to adopt the appropriate Christian beliefs. These types of educational methods are much more common than many people realize and they were even more popular a hundred years ago. They have also been used to teach children other beliefs including Muslim Jewish and secular beliefs. If this begins at a very early age the child may be more concerned about avoiding pain than about sorting through accurate facts from the beliefs that have been dictated to them. This pattern of behavior often stays with them throughout their entire lives.

This often escalates when they go to school; in many cases teachers have also used corporal punishment to discipline and even educate the children. This isn’t nearly as common as it used to be which may explain why some people are much less inclined to blindly obey authority. When the Vietnam War was initiated by the USA there was little or no opposition. It wasn’t until years later that the protest movement began. When Reagan fought several wars in Central America he relied on proxy armies that were controlled by client states but there was more opposition much earlier. This never received as much attention as the opposition to the Vietnam War partly because it didn’t involve using US forces which resulted in the loss of US lives; however the opposition arose much quicker from those that did protest it.

There are numerous defenders of corporal punishment and authoritarian methods of maintaining control over the family including Dana Mack who wrote “The Assault on Parenthood.” She defends the use of corporal punishment to control children even citing some examples that she seems to consider acceptable like one individual who said, “My father brought home the money and he beat us. That’s what he did.” Another recalls, “My father had this board hanging on the wall; he called it the ‘board of education.’ ” (p.34)

She also cites her own experience with her parents in the following excerpt:

Growing up in the 1960’s, I remember my own parents breaking into gales of laughter hearing the aging comedienne Ruth Goldberg quaintly counsel, “Spank your child once a day; if you don’t know what he did to deserve it, he will.” Like many of their peers, they were conscious of being both unfashionably strict and shamefully emotional in their relationships with their children. Yet they refused to adopt the new model of parenting, claiming that the ever-increasing cultural pressures on them to relinquish their authority didn’t square with their temperaments, their cultural traditions, or their politics. It seemed clear enough to them that Dr. Spock and his disciples were out to revolutionize not only the relationship between parents and their children but society itself, through the agency of the family. (p.34)

Another example she seems to consider acceptable is the following:

“My [teenage] son called his mother a ‘bitch,” and I got upset. I told him he better treat his mother with respect, and if he uses that kind of language again, I was going to slap him. So he says to me, ‘If you do, I’ll call the police.’ Well I gave him the phone, and I said, ‘Go ahead and call right now because if you call, I’m going to give you a reason,’ they teach them at school that parents don’t have the right to slap them.” (p.123)

It’s hard to understand how she could cite these examples without seeing a problem but the description of her own upbringing may shed some light on it. She was trained to accept what she was told from authority without question like many other defenders of corporal punishment. Many people raised in this manner justify to themselves the behavior of their parents. Things that are drilled into their heads at a young age often stay with them for life. I’m sure there are better arguments for corporal punishment but it often seems as if the ones I have seen are either obviously flawed or the omit important facts. Sometimes they include these facts even when they seem to refute their conclusions like the ones made by Dana Mack but they don’t seem to see it. Dana Mack also omits a lot of inconvenient facts that would raise questions about her conclusions so it is hard to understand why she would include this; the reason seems to be that she thinks it supports her conclusions.

An authoritarian attitude is more likely when violence escalates throughout life without many if any efforts to change this. In school it may show in bullying and peer pressure where children are encouraged to conform if they want to fit in. this often involves going along with the leader who in many cases may attempt to ostracize anyone who doesn’t go along with the program. In college or in military academy it is often reinforced by hazing which plebes or cadets have to go through in order to get into a fraternity or the military. Boot camp is a form of hazing that encourages the cadets to obey without question. They are taught to accept what they are told no matter what and obey orders. This is a very important factor when it comes to understanding why people like Lynndie England wind up involved in the scandal at Abu Ghraib. She was surely raised in an authoritarian manner. According to the Guardian ‘She says her mother once hit her so hard with a table tennis bat that it broke, but considers that normal for West Virginia. "I mean, yeah, we were brought up right. If we were out of line, we got spanked. We got privileges taken away. We had to do chores, dishes. Mow the grass."’ What she refers to being “brought up right” is what Greven and Miller describe as child abuse that leads to authoritarianism and violent tendencies. When you combine early abuse with military indoctrination and peer pressure you wind up with a soldier that is much more likely to go rogue especially when that is what they’re ordered to do and that is what everyone else is doing. This is similar to what happened in Nazi Germany only on a much smaller scale. They were raised in an authoritarian manner and they followed orders.

Stanley Milgram did a series of experiments in the sixties studying obedience to authority. This experiment involved having two people who play teacher and learner. They would pick a slip of paper to find out which was which. One of the “research subjects” was part of the research team pretending to be a research subject; when they picked lots they would both pick a piece that said they were the teacher but the team member would say he picked the student slip. The real subject would be told the purpose of the experiment was to see how well the learner would learn if he received escalating shocks for wrong answers. This might raise alarm bells today to many people since this doesn’t seem like a rational way to educate people; however thirty five years ago as I said strict disciplinary education was more common than it is today so for them it may have seen more acceptable and the explanation may have been more convincing than the one I described or even that what Milgram described in his book. The experiment showed that a surprising number of people were willing to go to the maximum voltage even in at least one case when the subject was given the impression that the learner was dead. Greven expressed regret that Milgram didn’t look into the childhood of the subjects to find out if that had something to do with why they obeyed orders. In “A Matter of Torture” Alfred McCoy pointed out that this experiment was supported by the Office of Naval Research and he indicated he thought Milgram may have been working for the CIA.

This experiment may have been an attempt to study obedience to authority for other reasons; perhaps to understand better how to ensure obedience in both the military and the CIA. McCoy also believes this may have been one of the research projects that the CIA did that helped them develop the torture techniques which were used in Central America and at Abu Ghraib and many other locations.

This clearly indicates the possibility that those in power are studying psychology for the purposes of keeping the people under their control. This isn’t limited to obedience to authority; James Garbarino has also indicated that there has been research done to study psychology to help marketers to understand how to better appeal to children starting at a very young age. He mentions an attempt to raise ethical questions about this practice in the American Psychology Association which he seemed to be in favor of but failed to pass. Advertisers also pray on the authoritarian attitude. They count on the consumer believing what they’re told from what appears to be authority figures.

Once you recognize the authoritarian profile it may help to recognize it in many characters including fictional characters to recognize how realistic they are. For example in the God father they presented it accurately up to a point however sometimes they romanticized the mafia by omitting certain aspects. In the first movie when Vito criticized Santino for letting people outside of the family know what he was thinking it was in a authoritarian way but it was behind closed doors so it wouldn't impair respect that is considered due to an adult. However in God father two they presented both Michael Corleone and Vito Corleone as loving parents. Michael Corleone was presented a little more realistically when they showed him treating his wife in an authoritarian way but Vito was portrayed in a manor where he loved both his wife and kids loyally. A more reliable perception of the authoritarian manner of a Crime boss was portrayed by John Gotti in a prison tape which has been released to the public where he talks about some trouble with his grandchild. He uses graphic language to explain how he would straighten this kid out by teaching him discipline with force.

He wasn't doing it in practice of course but it indicates how he almost certainly raised his own children. In other ways this may be an accurate way to portray the way acknowledgement of child abuse is often suppressed. If you read many memoirs or other reports of early childhood this is routinely swept under the rug. In some cases people like Miller and Dorothy Otnow Lewis have done the investigation necessary to look deeper and find the truth. They have often been accused of finding what they are looking for even when it isn’t there. Even if these two didn’t do this I’m sure there are cases where this has turned out to be the truth. In some cases investigated by Dorothy Otnow Lewis she searched for and found corroborating evidence including back up witnesses, scars from old injuries and hospital and police records of old incidents to back up many of the claims of abuse inflicted on people that often wound up on death row for murder. Furthermore in most cases the people on death row didn’t make the accusations in the first places or they did so only reluctantly after consulting with a psychologist. Most victims of child abuse from an early age are in denial and some of the text that Greven cites indicates that the advocates of corporal punishment know that abuse inflicted on children early on are forgotten and they count on it to justify their beliefs. They actually seem to believe that since children are too young to remember being “disciplined” that it has no long term effects.

If you review political activity and the biographies of many of the most powerful people you will often find clear signs of authoritarian attitudes if you know what to look for. One of the clearest and most extreme cases in the USA is Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon was paranoid manipulative and prone to violence with the control of the US military and nuclear weapons in his hands. According to Robert Dallek’s book “Nixon and Kissinger” ‘Nixon’s childhood was much more tumultuous and troublesome than he let on. Frank Nixon, his father, was a boisterous, unpleasant man who needed to dominate everyone-“a ‘punishing and often brutal’ father.” Edward Nixon, the youngest of the Nixon children described his “mother as the judge and my father as the executioner.”’ (p.5) there is ample evidence to indicate that Nixon was raised in an authoritarian way and to indicate that it followed him throughout life; and it seems as if many of the people in his administration were probably also raised in an authoritarian way although this book and most other books don’t review the early upbringing of most of them. There is enough in this book to indicate that Kissinger and probably Haig clearly were raised in an authoritarian way. Dallek only briefly covers Kissinger’s childhood, which was presumably harder to investigate since it was in prewar Germany, but he provides enough to raise some questions and there is more about his activities in his college life that clearly indicates an authoritarian attitude. Kissinger chose William Y Elliot, one of the two most powerful members of the government department at Harvard, as his mentor in college. Elliot was clearly an authoritarian. He made Kissinger stand there and wait while he finished his work when he approached him; then he said “Oh God, another tutee.” Then he gave him a list of twenty five books by Immanuel Kant to read and told him to write a paper on him. Kissinger surprised him by reading all twenty five books and coming up with a long paper that impressed Elliot. This led him to believe that Kissinger was a promising student, perhaps even a genius.

A closer look at Kissinger’s record at that time and since then may raise some doubts about the quality of Kissinger’s “genius” work; however it may have appealed to another authoritarian that adopted the same beliefs. Elliot was a abrupt large southern politician and academic that staged cockfights in his spare time. It appears as if he was dominating and may have used coercion to get his point across. This shouldn’t be considered a desirable characteristic in the academic world where ideas should be judged based on their merit not on the influence of the advocate of the ideas; however I suspect that in too many cases this still goes on even today. I’ve heard of many other powerful people in the academic world that are almost certainly authoritarians or at least have some authoritarian characteristics including John Silber, Gregory Mankiw, Samuel Huntington, Philip Zimbardo, Condoleezza Rice and of course Henry Kissinger himself. Some of these people are still in positions of power in the academic world or the government. A more thorough review of how many people in the academic world may be helpful. I suspect it may raise doubts about many of the most controversial subjects and the way they’re being taught.

This is just the beginning of the authoritarian characteristics of both Nixon and Kissinger as well as many of the other people in his administration and the administrations of other presidents. They both believed in the escalating threat of violence to settle disputes and neither one of them knew many if any other ways to deal with situations. They often claimed they did but most of what they did was done behind closed doors; what they would tell the public would often be something like “we used shuttle diplomacy” or something but many of the documents and tapes that have been released since then indicates that mainly what they did is use intimidation tactics.

Daniel Ellsberg cited this excerpt from a conversation he had with Kissinger in his book ‘Kissinger said to Ellsberg “How can you conduct diplomacy without a threat of escalation? Without that there is no basis for negotiations.” Ellsberg replied “Well, Henry, a lot of negotiation, a lot of bargaining, does go on in the world without a threat of bombing.” ‘(“Secrets” p235)

The following excerpts from Robert Dallek’s book also indicates an authoritarian attitude within the Nixon Whitehouse:

What if a revolutionary state were in pursuit of a just cause and a status quo nation were serving unjust goals? A colleague asked Kissinger. “If I had to choose between justice and disorder, on the one hand,” Kissinger replied, “and injustice and order, on the other, I would always choose the latter.” (Robert Dallek “Nixon and Kissinger” 2007 p.46)

He (Nixon) told Haldeman that he was relying on what he called “the Madman theory.” He believed that the North Vietnamese would see him as ready to “do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, ‘for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about Communism. We can’t restrain him when he is angry-and he has his hands on the nuclear button’- and Ho Chi Minh will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.” (Robert Dallek “Nixon and Kissinger” 2007 p.106) References to the “Madman theory” were made on numerous occasions.

During the trip to Europe, after he received reports of additional Soviet construction in Cuba, he instructed Haig to take a hard line with Dobrynin. It was a mistake to give Haig, a no-nonsense general with little appreciation for diplomatic subtleties the assignment. Or it may be that Kissinger anticipated Haig’s tough talk. Haig told Dobrynin that they were violating the 1962 ban on offensive weapons in Cuba and ordered him to dismantle the base or “we will do it for you.” Dobrynin flushed angrily, and said, “In a loud voice, ‘You are threatening the Soviet Union. That is …intolerable.’”

When told of the exchange, Nixon and Kissinger were “furious…You have exceeded your authority,” Henry shouted at him over the phone. “You can’t talk to the Russians that way. You may have started a war.” Kissinger knew better, but he felt compelled to reflect Nixon’s distress at Haig’s intemperate language. He was undoubtedly pleased that Haig had said what his position of greater authority precluded him from saying. (Robert Dallek “Nixon and Kissinger” 2007 p.229-30)

Nixon countered, with implicit reference to the twenty-seven-year Soviet domination of eastern Europe, “Small nations object to having their fate decided by larger ones.” He then softened his remarks by declaring that “we wouldn’t want to anger Albania.” When the laughter subsided, Gromyko exclaimed sarcastically, “That is a very noble intention.” (Robert Dallek “Nixon and Kissinger” 2007 p.395)

It is difficult to understand how anyone could work for someone as volatile and irrational as Nixon sometimes was. Most likely, Kissinger and others rationalized their collaboration as helping to save Nixon from himself. After all, he was a democratically elected president and they saw themselves as serving the national well-being by reigning him in. Yet what seems so striking in the record is how often the people around Nixon catered to his outbursts and flights of fancy rather than calling him back to reality by challenging some of his most unsavory and unenforceable demands. It was a way to remain at Nixon’s side but it was a disservice to sensible policy making. It also speaks volumes about the reluctance of high government officials to alienate a president and perhaps force their departure from an office they believe gives them the chance to shape history making events. (Robert Dallek “Nixon and Kissinger” 2007 p.316)

The last quote from Dallek may indicate that he was downplaying the authoritarian nature of politics or that he may have been implying that this type of activity wasn’t common in many other presidential administrations or perhaps he just didn’t understand the causes of authoritarianism. Kissinger could be just as authoritarian as Nixon and this may be typical of the behavior in many administrations but unfortunately most of this activity is routinely done behind closed doors. Many of those in power probably tolerated this type of behavior from Nixon because Nixon often used in to advocate for their causes. It is only when he became a threat to many other people in power that they started to turn on him. It is almost certainly common for many of the most powerful people in business and government to use coercive or intimidating tactics when it helps them accomplish their goals only they are usually more subtle. Many people may have thought that the problem with Nixon wasn’t that he was authoritarian but that he didn’t hide it well enough. Nixon wasn’t born into money; he was one of the few who rose through the political ranks from the middle or lower classes. This doesn’t happen if they provide too much of a challenge to the powers that be. However this wasn’t the case with Nixon. He could be presented as a man of the people since he wasn’t born into the upper classes. When it counted he still advocated the positions that the ruling classes wanted so this was acceptable.

The upper classes are some of the people with the most authoritarian attitudes. According to some studies cited by Melvin Kohn the classes that tend to be what he calls conservative authoritarian tend to be the highest and the lowest classes. This is mainly based on surveys of values conducted for his “Class and conformity” research project in the sixties; however as far as I can tell if you look elsewhere you may find plenty of corroborating evidence. The lower classes tend to rely more on corporal punishment which was indicated in his research as well as the research of other academics and they are taught to obey but they don’t have as good an education as people from the middle or upper classes. People from the middle calluses often take jobs that require more self direction skills so they need more independence and authoritarianism is less likely to help in this. People from the upper classes are more likely to be taught in authoritarian manner but not in the same way as the people in the lower classes. They are often taught in a way that encourages them to believe that they will be entitled to rule later in life but first they must go through the proper education and submit to authority. Then when they do reach the point that they are in authority they expect others to obey them without question.

The fact that the system is in the control of a small percentage of the public should raise some questions about the authoritarian nature of the system. The Mass Media does little or nothing to explain how things work to the public because that would enable them to participate in the system more. The authoritarian nature of the presidency didn’t end with Nixon. Most if not all of the presidents since then have conducted foreign relations with little or no input from the public and in many cases without acknowledging the most basic principles of the subject being considered. The business community has an enormous amount of influence but unless there is an overwhelming opposition from the public their view are given little attention; instead the corporations present them with an enormous amount of propaganda and inadequate education to enable them to influence decisions.

The Carter administrations may have made some improvements, while there was still some pressure on them left over from the Vietnam protests and the revelations about the CIA, although not as many as the public was led to believe but the Reagan administration began rolling them back while many members of the public became more complacent and the CIA learned to cover their tracks a little better or at least they involved fewer US soldiers relying instead on foreign proxy forces. The Reagan administrations put many of the authoritarians left over from the Nixon administration back in power. This includes Alexander Haig who was there when Reagan got shot and made the notorious statement “As of now, I am in control here, in the White House.” when someone asked who was in charge and Bush was still out of town in a blatant disregard for the order of succession; and Henry Kissinger who was named as the head of the Kissinger Commission on Central America; as well as Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. These people have all maintained the belief that the most effective way to handle foreign policy should rely heavily on the use of force or the threat of the use of force and the use of secrecy. Foreign policy is one of the most secretive aspects of the government of the United States; this is true much more for the citizens of the United States than it is for the rest of the world. The rest of the world often knows much more about what the USA is doing abroad than the citizens of the USA due to the fact that they have to live with it and they don’t rely on the US media for their information.

This even turned out to be true in Nicaragua where Oliver North became involved in the Contras. The version of the truth given to the public was mostly propaganda. The most reliable source for this information isn’t the debate cited below between Noam Chomsky and John Silber but it may give you an idea how this was distorted. This was a debate between two people who were portrayed as taking opposing sides without much if any research into the details and it apparently turned into a shouting match where Silber spent a lot of time accusing Chomsky of being a liar. A closer look at the facts will almost certainly indicate the true liar was john Silber. This transcript isn’t complete and I think the complete version may indicate Chomsky referring to the sources he cites in his books which he asks Silber to check and address. Even if this was from a different debate it is a good idea. If Silber is certain of his position then he shouldn’t have any problem checking the sources and refuting them properly but this hasn’t been typical of the way John Silber has behaved. He has routinely behaved in an authoritarian manner resorting to distortion tactics when the truth doesn’t serve his purposes. Noam Chomsky has, as far as I can tell, done a much better job citing sources including many from the government and the Newspapers that he criticizes. If he is distorting the truth then he can and should be corrected; however I suspect the reason this isn’t typically done is that even if he does, as most people do, make a few mistakes the majority of what he says is true; therefore a sincere rebuttal will also confirm the facts that he gets right. Instead the establishment relies mostly on propaganda and the complacency of the American public. If you want more information about this there is plenty of this available in Chomsky’s books some of which are available on line including “Deterring Democracy” which addresses this subject, there is a link to this in the Bibliography section of the blog table of context cited below.

Oliver North also provided his version of the Iran Contra incident in his memoirs “Under Fire: An American Story”; although I would advise skepticism of it. This doesn’t mean it is a good book that tells a lot about authoritarianism; in fact if you know what to look for it may show a lot about how the propaganda model could work and how authoritarianism works. Sorting through the details may help if you are familiar with Miller’s and Greven’s work on authoritarianism and how it starts at childhood; as well as the propaganda model which Chomsky and Herman describe in Manufacturing Consent and much of this is repeated in Chomsky’s “Necessary Illusions”, also available free on line with a link in the bibliography. North describes his parents as strict disciplinarians who teach their children to behave by withholding dessert from them when they misbehave; he claims the only time he remembers his father hitting him was one time when he said something disrespectful of his mother. This may not seem like a very strict punishment, to “withhold dessert”, many children including me didn’t get dessert on a regular basis anyway. He was raised in Texas if this was the extent of his punishment he must have had one of the most lenient parents in Texas hardly what I would call strict disciplinarians. It is far more likely that he is downplaying the punishment he received as a child and many of the other things he says in his book seems to support this assumption if you think about it. He also describes a detailed account of what he went through in boot camp and the typical behavior in the marines and how they kept the soldiers in line. Intimidation was routine and he often made it seem as if accepting what they are told from the authority figure was the appropriate way to sort out the truth from lies.

When he was in trouble and he had to go to court he described how his lawyer said that if he was ever in a combat situation he would submit to his authority but in the court room North should follow his lawyer’s advice which is why he pleaded the fifth although he claims it was against his principles.

He believed that he should accept the authority of his lawyer; the same was true when it came to wearing a uniform to court which he was opposed because he didn’t want to smear the honor of the military but a higher ranking military officer gave him a lecture and convinced him to wear it; once again he submitted to authority.

The reason he wound up in all this trouble was that he routinely submitted to authority.

He accepted the version of truth that the government gave him and accepted orders every step of the way.

When he was in Vietnam he mentions that after he captured a Vietnamese and interrogated him he found out that “As far as they knew, Vietnam was all one country, and we were the aggressors.” He doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that they might be right which according to an enormous amount of historical data including the Pentagon Papers they were. He just accepts the version that was given to him by the authorities. This is the same when it comes to the war in Nicaragua; he just dismisses Daniel Ortega’s complaints about “American Imperialism” as boring ranting without trying to find out if there is much if any truth to it. As far as he is concerned there is “our version of the truth” which is right and “their version of the truth” which is wrong. He even acknowledges that they needed more security in El Salvador, Costa Rica, Honduras and other parts of Central America than they do in Nicaragua especially near the US embassy. He doesn’t consider the possibility that maybe this is because they’re angry at the USA for supporting a tyrannical regime in these other countries; instead he just claims that the Sandinistas protect them because they want to avoid bad publicity. Why don’t the countries that are supposedly friendly to the USA do this? This is typical of authoritarians who believe they’re supposed to believe what they’re told, whether it makes sense or not, from only the right authority figures.

Oliver North also wrote about how he found a book in the Chaplains office while undergoing marriage counseling. This was “Dare to Discipline” by James Dobson, founder of a group called “Focus on the Family” it turned out his wife already had a copy of it at home and he concluded that it was a very good book. This is one of the books that Philip Greven reviewed and criticized in his book spare the child. In an article from the web site for Focus on the Family James Dobson claims that corporal punishment shouldn’t be used until the child is 15-18 months old; then he recommends that parents start using it with a firm voice starting with mild slaps as indicated in the following excerpt. ‘Suppose a child is reaching for an electric socket or something that will hurt him. You say, "No!" but he just looks at you and continues reaching toward it. You can see the mischievous smile on his face as he thinks, I'm going to do it anyway! I'd encourage you to speak firmly so that he knows he is pushing past the limits. If he persists, slap his fingers just enough to sting. A small amount of pain goes a long way at that age and begins to introduce children to realities of the physical world and the importance of listening to what you say.’ The problem with this is that this tends to be the beginning and the use of corporal punishment tends to escalate from there. The child becomes desensitized to it and it requires more violence to get the same result. Dobson also indicates his bias by attributing mischievousness to the 18 month old who has a “mischievous smile on his face”. It is difficult to know what the child is thinking but he almost certainly isn’t trying to be rebellious since he almost certainly learned how to; however if he learns from the corporal punishment or other disciplinary measures that this is a contest for control as many advocates of corporal punishment seem to think then he may eventually develop that belief as a result of the corporal punishment. At this age he isn't going to understand the reason for not touching the electrical outlet any way; furthermore modern electric outlets are childproof; he seems to have cited an example specifically to back up his beliefs. Whether or not it is corporal punishment or other means to educate the child it will have to be repeated over and over again but with other means that involve more time explaining there are fewer side effects like more violence and authoritarian attitudes. When it comes to explaining things like this to a child it will be necessary to wait until he is old enough to understand and has some ability to communicate. Parents can rely on fear sooner but it comes at a high cost.

The fact that North found this to be appealing seems to indicate his sympathy to authoritarian beliefs. The fact that the military chaplain had it in his waiting room also indicates that he was presenting this to many of the other military parents who sought his advice. This implies that many military children will be raised in an authoritarian manner from birth. This escalates in boot camp as indicated before. I have seen several news reports of an incident from boot camp where the cadets were lining up in formation after a rigorous work out and standing at attention. One of the cadets collapsed from exhaustion or some other reason and the rest of the cadets ignored him and left him or her on the ground. This didn’t happen just once but several times and each time it happened, the news channel that was reporting it treated it as an isolated incident. This indicates that this may be much more common than many people realize. Cadets are trained to follow orders and when they are in training they aren’t supposed to do anything without permission or they will be punished. This means that they tend to hesitate before doing anything that might stand out like helping the cadet. If everyone else is at attention they stand at attention as well. This tends to teach people to conform and to obey orders instead of thinking for themselves. This was apparent when they tried to enroll the first girl in one of the most famous military academies. They put her through much worse hazing and abuse than any of the male cadets and she wound up leaving after it became too much for her. This is a situation where they were actually disobeying the highest authority which supposedly ordered them to allow her to participate but the traditional military command was running the academy and they made it clear that they were opposed to the new policy allowing woman into it. They didn’t stand up and take the blame any more than the highest authorities took the blame when Oliver North was caught. In both cases the lower ranks were left to take the blame which is a common Machiavellian tactic to protect those at the highest levels of power, unlike the “buck stops here” attitude that some leaders take.

One of the most extreme sources of authoritarianism is often religion. The truth in routinely dictated in religion in God’s name by religious leaders without much if any effort to find out what is true or not. This begins at an early age before the child develops any ability to sort out the truth from fiction; and it effectively prevents the child from developing this ability. This is often done by the parents not because they intend to do anything wrong; but because they believe it is right and that is the way they were raised. The official truth is allegedly handed down from God to profits and then the message is delivered to the people by the religious leaders often through coercive means. Some of the most blatant examples are the inquisitions where people were told the truth and if they dared to question it even with evidence they were intimidated and if necessary tortured or even killed. One of the most famous cases of this is Galileo; another common example is the belief that the body of Christ was literal. The forcing of adult to adopt the appropriate beliefs has been for the most part put to an end in the developed part of the world; however most of the people who have developed beliefs from this process have never reviewed them and corrected the mistakes that resulted from this process. Also there are still many people that believe this type of coercive education is still appropriate for children. Many of the leaders of Crusades or inquisitions were made Saints not for reasons that were understood by the people but for mysterious miracles or perhaps superstitions. Superstitions that are taught at an early age is a common way of maintaining authoritarianism; if the cult leader can control the superstitions and the followers make decisions based on these superstitions then the cult leader may be able to control the decisions of the followers to a point. Popes have a long history of dictating the truth; when they no longer had the military power to coerce they used other more subtle means and declared the pope to be the divine wsource of truth. This includes Pius XII who was considered to be Hitler's pope by many people. This wasn't quite true but it was close in many ways; he attempted to gain control of the schools and obtain veto power for teachers where ever he could get away with it. When he failed to maintain control while competing with Hitler, instead of advocating democracy, he maintained the authoritarian beliefs that enabled Hitler to unite the Catholics and the Protestants through intimidation tactics.

A clear description of how authoritarianism develops may be found in many of the biographies of major religious figures if they are reasonably accurate and if you know what to look for; including the biography of Padre Pio by Bernard Ruffin. This is no guarantee and if the biographer doesn’t provide the evaluation you may have to do it yourself which is the case with Ruffin’s biography of Padre Pio. Ruffin may not have realized it but he provided an enormous amount of material that describes how authoritarianism develops which someone familiar with the psychological profile described by Miller, Greven and others can recognize. Like North Padre Pio doesn’t remember being subject to corporal punishment but there I some evidence that he may have been or even if he wasn’t there was some emotional distress in the family and the entire area that he grew up in. Like North he was raised in a time and area where corporal punishment was the norm and it may not be uncommon to suppress this memory in many cases. When Padre Pio grew up he routinely said that obedience was the most important thing in his life sometimes even saying that if he was told to jump out of the window by a superior he would do it. According to family members there was at least one major incident which Pio may have been too young to remember well if at all. When he was a baby his father complained that he was crying all the time. This alone should raise the question of why; the answer they seemed to come up with involves the haunting by demons. On one occasion his father got so angry he grabbed Pio and started shaking him in anger and accidentally dropped him on the floor; then his mother came in and grabbed him also in anger though not directed at Pio; and yelled out emotionally at his father. These types of emotional outbursts were common throughout the village he grew up in.

When he grew older he went to three years of the free school, taught mainly by uneducated volunteers, available to the villagers before going to a religious school because he said he wanted to be a priest. When he went to religious school they relied heavily on corporal punishment. In one case an anonymous false accusation was made against him and his teacher accepted it as fact and became so angry that he punished him with his fists and beat him until he was black and blue. This obvious miscarriage of justice didn’t seem to have done anything to slow down his blind obedience to authority. Then when he went to seminary school this escalated when his teacher would instruct them to do what they referred to as the “discipline” which meant that they were supposed to flagellate themselves on the back with a chain often until they bled several times a week to prove their loyalty. Padre Pio often preached that we should accept the punishment that God sent our way without any understanding of why. He believed that authority should always be obeyed and protected even when there was enormous amount of evidence that it was being misused. In one case when there was a scandal about someone trying to blow the whistle on a church authority figure his first impulse was to refute the charges but when informed that they were true he attempted to cover them up. He didn’t seem to believe that authority should be held accountable at all in most cases. There were some exceptions; he believed that Mussolini and Hitler would lose the war and suffer God’s punishment but he didn’t advocate preventing them by standing up to authority. Instead he seemed to be satisfied with allowing God to handle it which essentially meant allowing the Holocaust to happen then God would punish them after the fact. The implication seems to be that if authority figures lead us into unjust wars we should follow blindly and await God’s judgment. This type of activity has been going on for thousands of years and God has yet to intervene to prevent these things from happen or provide advice to enable people to avoid these disasters. Assuming this God exists by declining to communicate at best God is providing tacit support for the authoritarianism that is being implemented in his name. Both Padre Pio and the Catholic Church preached that the public should accept the suffering that God sends our way without questioning it or understanding why. They both believed that the authority figures should have the right to withhold accurate information the public needs to make important decisions and even replace them with lies at times and the public should just accept it without question. A closer look at this book indicates an enormous amount of psychological information that contributes to authoritarianism; however the vast majority of the attention that is given to Padre Pio is devoted to the mysterious aspects of his life which people don’t understand or in most cases can’t confirm. A closer review of the aspect that can be understood should be done before jumping to conclusions about the mysterious aspects. If they can’t narrow down the rest and perhaps eventually explain it at least this will lead to a more rational understanding of the things people do understand. By focusing on the things they don’t understand and accepting the explanations from the leaders who claim to understand people actually strengthen authoritarianism. As I said before if a cult leader can control the superstitions then he may be able to control the followers.

Whether it is the religious or secular leaders that promote authoritarianism they routinely dictate who the enemy is and tell the public who to blame for their trouble. This is a classic divide and rule tactic. They prey on the emotions on the public and the fear that often has the same roots in child upbringing that authoritarianism does. When small children are often afraid of being hit and they can’t take it out on the people responsible they learn to redirect the blame elsewhere. This pattern often continues into adulthood. When they are told again to blame the “enemy” they often do so without question.

The United States and most if not all of the most powerful countries in the world are controlled by a few people who control the most powerful institutions within these countries that influence the lives of the public. These institutions include government, religious, educational and business institutions. Most of these institutions are controlled by a small percentage of the public with a minimum of input from the public. Furthermore most members of the public don’t understand the issues well enough to control these institutions. In order to change this, the public needs to be much better educated about all these institutions and the principles of how authoritarianism develop. Under the current circumstances this is an authoritarian regime and it will remain so until the public understands it better and acts to reform these powerful institutions. Doing so will require a much better education system for the public. Declining to do so is sure to lead to disaster perhaps sooner rather than later. The current political establishment is destroying the environment at a record pace and maintaining a constant state of war while using a massive propaganda system to prevent the public from knowing what is going on perhaps until it is too late.

Excerpts from Philip Greven’s book “Spare the Child”

Excerpts from Alice Millers book “The Truth Will Set You Free” including the chapters on “Corporal Punishment and Political Missions” and “The silence of the Church”

Guardian interview with Lynndie England

BBC: Abuse row woman 'followed orders'

Debate between John Silber and Noam Chomsky

For article from Focus on the Family, discretion advised as indicated above

(For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)

The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

I am reminded of attorney Lawrence Taylor's comments: “Science, if you can define it, would be, I would say, the systematic pursuit of truth. The objectives of law are very different. It is a governmental mechanism for imposing order, structure, predictability, security, and confidence of the public in its institutions. The law is not concerned with truth…The legal system is not concerned with justice, either. It is concerned with expediency, not justice.”

noah tawls August 11, 2010 02:03 PM Good science involves fact checking and listening to different ideas; propaganda involves controlling what the public hears and ridiculing or discrediting inconvenient facts whether they’re true or not assuming they can’t censor them.

zacherydtaylor August 13, 2010 01:22 PM

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